Saturday, July 30, 2005

Stem Cells and Presidential Power

Allow me to ramble a bit on Frist's change of heart concering stem cells. I'll start by noting that, by and large, I am ambivalent about federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. My ambivalence is the product of the conviction that, as a practical matter, the issue will be moot in the very near future -- every day we read about adult stem cells being coaxed into ever more therapeutic behavior and new techniques of stem cell creation that are not embryo dependent. That said, I do hope that the President has the good sense to sign any bill the Congress presents, even if ithe bill is inconsistent with his most fundamental beliefs about the sanctity of life. Unlike issues of national security and foreign policy, Congress is the institution that, in the end, is -- and should be -- the place where momentous decisions such as this are taken. The President's view is legitimate, but it is also just that -- the President's view. And the President has no more right to impose his view on this issue than I do.

The President could (and perhaps should) sign the bill with a heavy heart, but sign the bill he should. Otherwise, all the President's well-chosen rhetoric regarding judges who uphold their own personal views at the expense of those the people express through their elected representatives would ring hollow indeed. Simply stated, on issues lying within the scope of Article I power, it is no more the President's place to make law than it is the place of the courts (for purposes of this discussion, we'll leave the intricacies of delegation doctrine and ageny power to one side -- you get my point). That job is exclusively reserved for the Congress. An honorable man would, in such circumstances, do his constitutional duty and give effect to the expressed will of the people.

In the end, this decision is not -- and was never -- the President's decision to take. That Congress abdicated its responsibility in this area for so long reflects poorly on the institution, revealing an unflattering timidity. The President was right to fill the breach. But, once Congress steps in, the President must withdraw. I'll say again that I don't have much of a dog in this fight and believe it is a fight that science will shortly moot (in the interest of disclosure, if forced to take sides I suppose I'd favor the research). Whichever way Congress comes out, though, that should be the law. In short, that's democracy.

Update: And then there are crushingly arrogant shitheads like this, who blithely mock others' deeply held convictions.