Human Nature

For the Benefit of Others

Bush’s hypocrisy on stem cells and the death penalty.

What clear standard?

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed legislation to expand federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research. President Bush said he would veto the legislation because it “violates the clear standard I set four years ago. This bill would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life.”

The standard Bush set four years ago  and repeated last week is that we shouldn’t take one life—even an embryonic life—in order to save others. Cost-benefit analysis is never sufficient grounds for the premeditated killing of civilians—except when it comes to the death penalty. When the discussion shifts from embryos to murderers, Bush and his spokesmen routinely argue that killing is justified not because murderers deserve it, but because it’s moral to take one life in order to save others. He doesn’t say that Person A should be executed because Person A is a danger to society. He says that Person A should be executed because the execution will deter Person B from killing Person C.


Before Bush vetoes the stem-cell bill, maybe he should explain how his comments about stem cells in the left column below square with his comments about capital punishment in the right column.

“Yet the ethics of medicine are not infinitely adaptable. There is at least one bright line: We do not end some lives for the medical benefit of others.”—George W. Bush, New York Times, Aug. 12, 2001“During the course of the campaign in 1994 I was asked, ‘Do you support the death penalty?’ I said I did, if administered fairly and justly. Because I believe it saves lives.”—Bush, Oct. 17, 2000
“Dr. Zerhouni shares my view that human life is precious, and should not be exploited or destroyed for the benefits of others.”—Bush, March 22, 2002White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer: “The president believes that we need to welcome and create a culture that respects life in this country.” Q: “How can he be in favor of showing how much we disapprove of killing, by killing?” Fleischer: “You’re referring to the death penalty?” Q: “I’m referring to the death penalty.” Fleischer: “Because the president’s opinion is the death penalty ultimately saves lives.” May 7, 2001
“Research cloning would contradict the most fundamental principle of medical ethics, that no human life should be exploited or extinguished for the benefit of another.”—Bush, April 10, 2002

“The president supports the death penalty for those people who commit violent, heinous crimes, because he believes that it saves lives.”—Fleischer, June 20, 2002

“In this session, the U.N. will consider a resolution sponsored by Costa Rica calling for a comprehensive ban on human cloning. I support that resolution and urge all governments to affirm a basic ethical principle: No human life should ever be produced or destroyed for the benefit of another.”—Bush, Sept. 21, 2004“The president does believe that the death penalty does serve as a deterrent to crime. He believes that for violent and heinous crimes, that the death penalty ultimately saves lives.”—Fleischer, Jan. 13, 2003
“To build a culture of life, we must also ensure that scientific advances always serve human dignity, not take advantage of some lives for the benefit of others.”—Bush, Feb. 2, 2005White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan: “Well, I can tell you why the president supports the death penalty. He’s made that clear before. That the president believes it’s a deterrent that helps save lives, and that’s why he supports the death penalty.” Q: “But isn’t that inconsistent with what he’s doing today?” McClellan: “The reason he supports the death penalty is because it helps—he believes that it helps save lives, and he’s stated that view clearly and consistently over a number of years.” March 20, 2005
“The President is committed to medical research that does not violate the dignity of human life or exploit one human life for the benefit of another.”—White House fact sheet, State of the Union, Feb. 2, 2005“I happen to believe that the death penalty, when properly applied, saves lives of others. And so I’m comfortable with my beliefs that there’s no contradiction between the two.”—Bush, April 14, 2005
“The use of federal money, taxpayers’ money to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is—I’m against that. And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it.”—Bush, May 20, 2005