What if "Murphy Brown" was a sit-trag rather than a sit-com? What if the title character in this popular TV show was not celebrating the birth of a child (albeit out of wedlock) but suffering from diabetes or Parkinson's disease or spinal cord injury or Alzheimer's disease. What if, in her desperation, she gave a plug for fetal research that might, eventually, offer some hope of a cure?
Would Vice President Quayle find a "poverty of values" in such a decision on the spurious theory that the use of fetuses from induced abortions might encourage more abortions? Would President Bush set up a fetal tissue bank that would restrict medical researchers only to tissue from miscarriages and tubal pregnancies -- tissue that in most instances is defective and unusable?
Alas, this is not a fictional situation. It is as real as the current presidential election campaign. Mr. Bush, in a cynical attempt to be both "pro-life" and "pro-research" (and to avoid what may and should be his first veto override in Congress), has approved $3 million for this have-it-both-ways policy in dealing with dread diseases that affect millions.
The president's reasons are all too transparent. As with other policy questions, he continues to pander to hard-right conservatives in the Republican Party in an effort to stop the disaffected among them from going over to the Ross Perot candidacy. But on the fetal tissue issue, he goes too far.
Even such conservative, anti-abortion figures as Sens. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and Jake Garn, R-Utah, break with him for the most human of reasons: Their daughters have diabetes. They are not interested in the politics. They are interested in easing suffering and seeking a cure. Promising medical research in which healthy tissue from aborted fetuses is implanted in the stricken adults has been sidetracked for four years by Reagan-Bush decisions contrary to the advice of expert panels they themselves set up.
Today the House may vote on a health bill to free fetal research from these senseless federal restrictions. It is carefully written to avoid abuses or unethical gain. Let it pass -- and let it pass with a majority large enough to override Mr. Bush's threatened veto. Let the Senate, even more solid on this issue, follow suit. Maybe then the president will reconsider. Maybe then he will understand that the country wants him to be a principled leader rather than a conniving politician.