Freedom to Research

April 05, 1992

With support from such stout opponents of abortions as Strom Thurmond and Jake Garn, the Senate has voted 87-10 to lift a four-year ban on federal funding for fetal tissue research that could help combat diabetes, Parkinson's, Huntington's, Alzheimer's and other currently incurable diseases. Significantly, it added a "research freedom" provision to stop the government from inhibiting the march of science for political, ideological or "moral" reasons.

This puts President Bush on the spot, which is precisely where he deserves to be. If it appears that a veto-proof majority is emerging in the House, he has the choice of being overridden for the first time in his presidency or adopting the more reasonable position that this whole issue is a matter of health, not abortion.

Unfortunately, it is also a matter of politics. The president can placate the doctrinaire right, which denounces fetal tissue research with the same kind of inflammatory language it uses against abortion, saying the very success of such research would encourage society to "cannibalize" fetuses resulting from

voluntary abortions. Or he can risk losing the votes of moderates who believe he has taken his anti-abortion stand to ridiculous lengths by denying science an obvious line of inquiry.

Senators Thurmond and Garn, both conservative Republicans, have concluded that fetal tissue research makes eminent good sense precisely because their own daughters have diabetes. Medical science has indicated that cells taken from aborted fetuses and implanted in disease-ridden living persons may offer some hope of recovery. Results are inconclusive so far, in part because the Reagan-Bush ban on federal funding has inhibited research. (Privately funded research is minimal.) Both presidents overrode recommendations from their own advisory panels.

We hope Mr. Bush will rethink his position. As election-year conflict over abortion reaches fever pitch, with Washington protest marches in anticipation of the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe vs. Wade, the president should move to isolate fetal tissue research from the debate so that medical science can proceed and progress normally.

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