Posted: Friday, August 10, 2001

A reasonable decision

The following editorial appeared in today's edition of the San Jose Mercury News:

George W. Bush broke one campaign promise Thursday and kept another.

In deciding to open the door -- ever so slightly -- to federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the president rejected a long-standing pledge to religious conservatives who believe it is murder to destroy human embryos.

But he kept another promise he made as a candidate: that he would approach difficult decisions by reaching out across the ideological divide, listening to people on all sides and choosing the path that is best for the country.

Bush clearly wrestled with this decision. He consulted religious leaders, including Pope John Paul II, as well as ethicists, scientists, health advocates and politicians. Once he decided, he didn't try to sneak in the announcement over the weekend or leak it as a trial balloon. He announced it on prime-time TV, underscoring what he considered to be the gravity of the issue.

"I have made this decision with great care," he said, "and I pray it is the right one."

Is it the right decision? Yes. Bush's plan will not satisfy either the religious conservatives or the research community, but it is a reasonable compromise.

We would have liked a bolder endorsement of embryonic stem-cell research, an extremely promising field with the potential for saving lives now lost to diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other conditions. We had hoped Bush would approve the use of embryos discarded by fertility clinics, which most Americans support. He didn't go that far. He only approved research on existing stem cell lines, so that no new embryos would be destroyed. This may not provide a broad enough base for research.

The president also made it clear that his priority is research on cells that can be harvested without destroying embryos -- adult cells and those drawn from umbilical cords.

But considering that as recently as last month Bush promised he would never support stem-cell research, he has taken a major step. He has sent a message to the research community that the United States will not shy away from this important scientific inquiry. Research on stem cells from a variety of sources goes on in this country today, with private money. Sanctioning at least some forms of the research and appointing a council to monitor it assures that the work will be subjected to peer review and conducted for public benefit.

Certainly moral and ethical questions remain, and the debate about this research will continue for years to come. So will our quest to understand the mysteries of life and to end human suffering.

Outrage in Israel

The following editorial appeared in today's edition of Washington Post:

The bombing Thursday of a crowded pizza restaurant in downtown Jerusalem, which killed at least 15 people and injured around 100, was an atrocity of a sort that must be distinguished from everything else that goes on in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Whatever one thinks of the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- and we have criticized his refusal to freeze settlements and his selective killings of Palestinian militants -- the deliberate targeting of civilians, including children, is an altogether different matter. It is a simple savagery that no country can reasonably be expected to tolerate. Israel's determination Thursday night to respond was entirely legitimate. The Palestinian leadership should have had no difficulty condemning unequivocally the restaurant bombing.

Yet the Palestinian leadership's response to the bombing was worse than equivocal. Yasser Arafat issued a weak statement condemning the bombing and "all acts that harm civilians." His lieutenants made clear that they didn't fault the Palestinian groups that competed to claim responsibility for the blast. "We believe Sharon alone is responsible for the cycle of violence," Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian information minister, said. Fatah militia leader Marwan Barghouti went a step further, endorsing the bombing as "the only way to end the (Israeli) occupation of Palestinian territories."...

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