On 20 July 2006 David Holcberg and Alex Epstein co-authored a Letter to the Editor of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) which I have quoted in its entirety below. It was written in response to President Bush's veto of a bill which would have funded embryonic stem cell research. (Both men are credited as ARI writers/speakers on the organization's website, though that is not noted in their letter.) My comments follow the text of their letter.
Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2006 12:44:57 -0500 (CDT)
From: Letter to the Editor
Subject: Bush's Opposition to Embryonic Stem Cell Research Is Anti-Life
President Bush's veto of a bill to remove restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research is
immoral. Being the first veto of Bush's presidency, it shows once again his commitment to impose his religious
agenda on all Americans.
Contrary to the claims of Bush and others who oppose embryonic stem cell research, embryos destroyed in the
process of extracting stem cells are not human beings. These embryos are smaller than a grain of sand, and
consist of, at most, a few hundred undifferentiated cells. They have no body or body parts. They do
not see, hear, feel, or think. While these early embryos have the potential to become human beings--they are
not actual human beings.
To restrict the freedom of scientists to use clusters of cells to do such research on the basis of religious
dogma is to violate their rights--as well as the rights of all who would contribute to, invest in, or benefit
from this research.
Embryonic stem cell research has the potential to revolutionize medicine and save millions of lives--and it
should proceed unimpeded.
David Holcberg and Alex Epstein
Copyright © 2006 Ayn Rand® Institute. All rights reserved.
As I noted in my response to Dr. Yaron Brook's press release (see my post of 21 July 2006 below),
I agree with the criticism of the President's rationale for his veto, but most emphatically disagree with the
claim that the veto is "immoral" -- a claim made by all three writers.
But the authors of this letter go further. Their text is a curious collection of ill-conceived,
misleading, and mistaken comments.
By way of example:
Being the first veto of Bush's presidency, it shows once again his commitment to impose
his religious agenda on all Americans.
"[I]mpose"? The man is President of the United States. He opposes the embryonic stem
cell funding legislation on moral grounds and has repeatedly so stated. Of course he's going to "impose"
his belief. What would they expect him to do? Betray his own values and sign the proposed
legislation into law? Condemn the faulty reasoning by which the President justified his action. But
don't criticize him for being consistent and acting on his convictions.
Additionally, if the President of The United States believes that protecting human embryos is
equivalent to protecting innocent human beings, and that the intentional destruction of embryos constitutes an
immoral act, then acting to prevent government funding of embryonic stem cell research is not part of a
religious but rather a political agenda. Mischaracterizing
the president's action as part of a "religious agenda" is at best sloppy thinking.
I want take a moment more to emphasize this point. Bush's conclusion (opposition to embryonic
stem cell research) and his reason for it (an erroneous view which equates the status of an embryo to that of a
human being) are wrong and should be opposed without reservation. But given his reasoning, and his office,
he acted in a "political" not a religious context. A district attorney who prosecutes a killer is not
imposing his religious agenda on anyone despite the fact that he personally believes his God prohibits murder.
And then there's this:
To restrict the freedom of scientists to use clusters of cells to do such research on
the basis of religious dogma is to violate their rights--as well as the rights of all who would contribute
to, invest in, or benefit from this research.
Were I feeling generous, I'd call those statements "ambiguous" and accuse the writers of
equivocation. I'm not feeling generous. Put simply: those two statements are
false. And Messrs. Holcberg and Epstein should have known they were false. Their suggestion
to the contrary notwithstanding, millions upon millions of dollars are already being spent on embryonic stem
In 2002 the University of California at San Francisco established its own stem cell research
program using private funds. Here's a brief quote from the University's
established the Program in Developmental and Stem Cell Biology in August 2002, with a $5 million
matching grant from Andy Grove, the chair of Intel Corp. The match was met, and UCSF has now
raised approximately $13 million in donations."
In 2004 the voters of California passed a bond issue which provides "as much as $3 billion
over 10 years to pay for research on 'non-qualifying' stem cell lines and on cloning of human embryos
for therapeutic purposes." (
The Washington Post, 4 December 2004)
On January 11, 2005 the governor of New Jersey announced the funding of a $150 million
stem cell research center. (
18 July 2006)
In May of 2005 the state of Connecticut "set aside $100 million for stem cell research over
10 years in an effort to help its biotech industry compete with California and New Jersey." (
18 July 2006)
And on 6 June 2006 Harvard University announced "the launch of a privately funded,
multimillion-dollar program to create cloned human embryos as sources of medically promising stem cells." (
Washington Post, 7
And that just scratches the surface.
No one is "restricting the freedom of scientists", or violating the rights "of all who would contribute
to, invest in, or benefit from this research." Individuals are as free today to "contribute to, invest in, or
benefit from this research" as they were before the president's veto. What the veto did prevent was the use
of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. Yet that very 'restriction' should be
supported by everyone who claims to understand and adhere to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
I'll put this another way. When did adherents of Objectivism begin defending government
handouts? For that is what these authors imply. To repeat: the only 'prohibition' is the
one against federal government funding. The president's veto did not in any way restrict privately
funded research. Do these authors mean to suggest that his refusal to provide federal funds constitutes
a violation of the rights of scientists who would engage in such research? Just which rights would those
be? The 'right' of scientists to receive federal subsidies for their research?
Holcberg and Epstein conclude that "[e]mbryonic stem cell research ... should proceed
unimpeded." I'll say it yet again: The only thing the veto impeded was another federal
government hand out. These gentlemen should reread Ms Rand's essay on "The Nature of
Government". Some very strange things are happening at ARI.
Lester S. Garrett
22 August 2006
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