Shortly after taking office, President Bush announced a policy allowing federal funding of research only on existing stem cell lines, despite the urging of several of his advisers and the scientific community for expanded funding. Bush has nevertheless remained stubborn, twice vetoing legislation that would have lifted the restrictions.
In a new piece in Commentary magazine, Jay Lefkowitz — who advised Bush on stem cells — reveals how the President formulated his 2001 policy. While Bush heard from a variety of groups on both sides of the issue, the turning point appeared to come when Lefkowitz read from Aldous Huxley’s fictional novel, Brave New World, and scared Bush:
A few days later, I brought into the Oval Office my copy of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s 1932 anti-utopian novel, and as I read passages aloud imagining a future in which humans would be bred in hatcheries, a chill came over the room.
“We’re tinkering with the boundaries of life here,” Bush said when I finished. “We’re on the edge of a cliff. And if we take a step off the cliff, there’s no going back. Perhaps we should only take one step at a time.”
It’s unclear what passage Lefkowitz read, but Brave New World opens with a scene at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, where embryos are turned into full human beings — often dozens of pairs of “identical twins” to ensure “social stability.”
Scientists are not proposing such fictional experiments and recognize the need to balance ethics with scientific progress. In fact, the legislation expanding embryonic stem cell research (vetoed by Bush) — actually proposed ethics regulations that were stricter than Bush’s. Additionally, a bill banning human cloning was blocked by conservatives in Congress in June.
Six years since the President’s misguided, outdated restrictions, the scientific community has come together in support of lifting this ban. Even University of Wisconsin Professor James Thomson, whose work isolating embryonic stem cells has been used by the right wing — including Lefkowitz — as vindication for Bush’s policies, has stressed that the administration’s restrictive stem cell policies are “counter to both scientific and public opinion” and are inhibiting potential treatments.