THE PRESIDENT'S EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH DECISION
Good evening. I appreciate you giving me a few minutes of your time
tonight so I can discuss with you a complex and difficult issue, an issue
that is one of the most profound of our time.
The issue of research involving stem cells derived from human embryos is
increasingly the subject of a national debate and dinner table
discussions. The issue is confronted every day in laboratories as
scientists ponder the ethical ramifications of their work. It is agonized
over by parents and many couples as they try to have children or to save
children already born.
The issue is debated within the church, with people of different faiths,
even many of the same faith, coming to different conclusions.
Many people are finding that the more they know about stem-cell research,
the less certain they are about the right ethical and moral conclusions.
My administration must decide whether to allow federal funds, your tax
dollars, to be used for scientific research on stem cells derived from
A large number of these embryos already exist. They are the product of a
process called in vitro fertilization which helps so many couples conceive
children. When doctors match sperm and egg to create life outside the
womb, they usually produce more embryos than are implanted in the mother.
Once a couple successfully has children or if they are unsuccessful, the
additional embryos remain frozen in laboratories. Some will not survive
during long storage, others are destroyed. A number have been donated to
science and used to create privately funded stem-cell lines. And a few
have been implanted in an adoptive mother and born and are today healthy
Based on preliminary work that has been privately funded, scientists
believe further research using stem cells offers great promise that could
help improve the lives of those who suffer from many terrible diseases,
from juvenile diabetes to Alzheimer, from Parkinsons to spinal cord
injuries. And while scientists admit they are not yet certain, they
believe stem cells derived from embryos have unique potential.
You should also know that stem cells can be derived from sources other
than embryos: from adult cells, from umbilical cords that are discarded
after babies are born, from human placentas. And many scientists feel
research on these types of stem cells is also promising. Many patients
suffering from a range of diseases are already being helped with
treatments developed from adult stem cells.
However, most scientists, at least today, believe that research on
embryonic stem cells offers the most promise because these cells have the
potential to develop in all of the tissues in the body.
Scientists further believe that rapid progress in this research will come
only with federal funds. Federal dollars help attract the best and
brightest scientists. They ensure new discoveries are widely shared at the
largest number of research facilities, and that the research is directed
toward the greatest public good.
The United States has a long and proud record of leading the world toward
advances in science and medicine that improve human life, and the United
States has a long and proud record of upholding the highest standards of
ethics as we expand the limits of science and knowledge.
Research on embryonic stem cells raises profound ethical questions,
because extracting the stem cell destroys the embryo, and thus destroys
its potential for life.
Like a snowflake, each of these embryos is unique, with the unique genetic
potential of an individual human being.
As I thought through this issue I kept returning to two fundamental
questions. First, are these frozen embryos human life and therefore
something precious to be protected? And second, if they're going to be
destroyed anyway, shouldn't they be used for a greater good, for research
that has the potential to save and improve other lives?
I've asked those questions and others of scientists, scholars,
bioethicists, religious leaders, doctors, researchers, members of
Congress, my Cabinet and my friends. I have read heartfelt letters from
many Americans. I have given this issue a great deal of thought, prayer,
and considerable reflection, and I have found widespread disagreement.
On the first issue, are these embryos human life? Well, one researcher
told me he believes this five-day-old cluster of cells is not an embryo,
not yet an individual but a pre-embryo. He argued that it has the
potential for life, but it is not a life because it cannot develop on its
An ethicist dismissed that as a callous attempt at rationalization. "Make
no mistake," he told me, "that cluster of cells is the same way you and I,
and all the rest of us, started our lives. One goes with a heavy heart if
we use these," he said, "because we are dealing with the seeds of the next
And to the other crucial question -- If these are going to be destroyed
anyway, why not use them for good purpose? -- I also found different
Many of these embryos are byproducts of a process that helps create life
and we should allow couples to donate them to science so they can be used
for good purpose instead of wasting their potential.
Others will argue there is no such thing as excess life and the fact that
a living being is going to die does not justify experimenting on it or
exploiting it as a natural resource.
At its core, this issue forces us to confront fundamental questions about
the beginnings of life and the ends of science. It lives at a difficult
moral intersection, juxtaposing the need to protect life in all its phases
with the prospect of saving and improving life in all its stages.
As the discoveries of modern science create tremendous hope, they also lay
vast ethical mine fields.
As the genius of science extends the horizons of what we can do, we
increasingly confront complex questions about what we should do. We have
arrived at that brave new world that seemed so distant in 1932 when
Alduous Huxley wrote about human beings created in test tubes in what he
called a hatchery.
In recent weeks, we learned that scientists have created human embryos in
test tubes solely to experiment on them. This is deeply troubling and a
warning sign that should prompt all of us to think through these issues
Embryonic stem-cell research is at the leading edge of a series of moral
hazards. The initial stem cell researcher was at first reluctant to begin
his research, fearing it might be used for human cloning. Scientists have
already cloned a sheep. Researchers are telling us the next step could be
to clone human beings to create individual designer stem cells,
essentially to grow another you, to be available in case you need another
heart or lung or liver.
I strongly oppose human cloning, as do most Americans. We recoil at the
idea of growing human beings for spare body parts or creating life for our
And while we must devote enormous energy to conquering disease, it is
equally important that we pay attention to the moral concerns raised by
the new frontier of human embryo stem cell research. Even the most noble
ends do not justify any means.
My position on these issues is shaped by deeply held beliefs. I'm a strong
supporter of science and technology, and believe they have the potential
for incredible good -- to improve lives, to save life, to conquer disease.
Research offers hope that millions of our loved ones may be cured of a
disease and rid of their suffering. I have friends whose children suffer
from juvenile diabetes. Nancy Reagan has written me about President
Reagan's struggle with Alzheimer's. My own family has confronted the
tragedy of childhood leukemia. And like all Americans, I have great hope
I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our creator. I worry about
a culture that devalues life, and believe as your president I have an
important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America
and throughout the world.
And while we're all hopeful about the potential of this research, no one
can be certain that the science will live up to the hope it has generated.
Eight years ago, scientists believed fetal tissue research offered great
hope for cures and treatments, yet the progress to date has not lived up
to its initial expectations. Embryonic stem cell research offers both
great promise and great peril, so I have decided we must proceed with
As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem
cell lines already exist. They were created from embryos that have already
been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves
indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research.
I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for
research on these existing stem-cell lines, where the life-and- death
decision has already been made.
Leading scientists tell me research on these 60 lines has great promise
that could lead to breakthrough therapies and cures. This allows us to
explore the promise and potential of stem cell research without crossing a
fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction
or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the
potential for life.
I also believe that great scientific progress can be made through
aggressive federal funding of research on umbilical cord, placenta, adult
and animal stem cells, which do not involve the same moral dilemma. This
year your government will spent $250 million on this important research.
I will also name a president's council to monitor stem-cell research, to
recommend appropriate guidelines and regulations and to consider all of
the medical and ethical ramifications of biomedical innovation.
This council will consist of leading scientists, doctors, ethicists,
lawyers, theologians and others, and will be chaired by Dr. Leon Cass, a
leading biomedical ethicist from the University of Chicago.
This council will keep us apprised of new developments and give our nation
a forum to continue to discuss and evaluate these important issues.
As we go forward, I hope we will always be guided by both intellect and
heart, by both our capabilities and our conscience. I have made this
decision with great care, and I pray it is the right one.
Thank you for listening. Good night, and God bless America.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
Thursday, August 9, 2001
Televised Speech To the Nation