I wrote the following in July--but little has changed since then:

If someone had come to me ten years ago and told me that there were some excess human embryos laying around in a freezer somewhere, the waste product of a completed in vitro fertilization procedure, and we could use those terminal embryos in an experiment that might lead to advances toward curing diseases, I am almost certain that I would have said (without hesitation): "Go for it!"

But it is not ten years ago. Unfortunately, I have listened long and hard to nearly a decade of debate, and now I am unflinchingly ambivalent.

I grew up believing that "life began in the womb." "Life begins in the Petri dish" takes some getting used to. After almost a decade, I still wonder: if the embryos are human life, why are we allowing so many to be created and then frozen and eventually destroyed? Isn't that a much bigger problem than experimentation?

But I also hear the voices who are troubled by the larger issues in this debate. I believe in the sanctity of human life. I agree that there are dangerous precedents in what we do here. And I wonder about the long-range implications of the genetic engineering aspect of this process.

In this debate, I have been most swayed by my negative reaction to what the proponents have said. Today on C-SPAN [July 18, 2006] Tom Harkin was trying to explain how "potential human life" was not as valuable as "real human life." Listen to a politician for a while, and you start to realize how fraught with future peril this process (how slippery this slope) really is.

On the other hand, Orrin Hatch and Gordon Smith (two GOP stalwarts of conservatism) are set to vote for the Harkin-Specter bill today.

A few things worth considering:

1. There is no "federal ban" on embryonic stem cell research. This is a debate about funding. Shall we as a community spend our common funds in this particular way?

2. There is too much hype and politicization. Our sick friends and relatives are not being held hostage by this policy decision. No one is going to "get up and walk" in the foreseeable future, if this bill passes and the President signs it into law.

3. Many researchers and entities are working on embryonic stem cells. Big states and other nations are coming up with big dollars to move this along. The federal money is mostly symbolic (and political).

4. It is true, according to reputable opinion polls, that a large majority of Americans favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. But that does not mean that a presidential veto circumvents the "political process." A presidential veto is the political process. All the people elect the president, and we expect him to execute the duties of his office to the best of his ability and, as Lincoln said, "with firmness in the right as God gives [him] to see the right."

5. There is precedent for localizing troubling national moral issues. The federal government has often punted on intractable moral questions (e.g., slavery, temperance, sex). A decision not to fund embryonic stem cell research with federal money because of the lack of moral clarity is a compromise not at odds with our history.

More on the politics of stem cell from last November (late October actually) here.