Adviser: Ronald Reagan Would Have Opposed Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 11, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Adviser: Ronald Reagan Would Have Opposed Embryonic Stem Cell Research

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 11, 2004

Washington, DC ( — In an editorial printed in Friday’s New York Times, Reagan adviser William Clark said the former president would have opposed the use of embryonic stem cell research and the destruction of human life that accompanies it.

"Ronald Reagan had not passed from this life for 48 hours before proponents of human embryonic stem-cell research began to suggest that such ethically questionable scientific work should be promoted under his name," Clark wrote.

"But this cannot honestly be done without ignoring President Reagan’s own words and actions," Clark, national security adviser and secretary of the interior under President Reagan, added.

Clark said that Reagan instituted a policy that shows he almost certainly would oppose embryonic stem cell research.

"After the charter expired for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s ethical advisory board — which in the 1970’s supported destructive research on human embryos — he began a de facto ban on federal financing of embryo research that he held to throughout his presidency," Clark explained.

Clark said that one of the highlights of Reagan’s presidency, for Reagan, was his ability the highlight the injustice done to unborn children through abortion. President Reagan enjoyed protecting the sanctity of human life and Clark said the former president told him he wished he could have done more on the issue.

"One of the things he regretted most at the completion of his presidency in 1989, he told me, was that politics and circumstances had prevented him from making more progress in restoring protection for unborn human life," Clark wrote in the Times op-ed.

Reagan was the only president to write a book while in office. In "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation," written to defend human life and encourage pro-life advocates, Reagan rejects a "quality of life" ethic.

"We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life — the unborn — without diminishing the value of all human life," Reagan wrote.

Writing about the value of all human life, Reagan quoted the British writer Malcolm Muggeridge’s statement that "however low it flickers or fiercely burns, it is still a divine flame which no man dare presume to put out, be his motives ever so humane and enlightened."

Like pro-life advocates, Clark said political leaders need only look at the marketplace to see where investors think there will be significant scientific progress.

Investors are not bankrolling embryonic stem cell research — which explains in part the push for government funding. However, they are backing the use of adult stem cells, which have already proven more effective in clinical trials.

"Mr. Reagan’s suffering under Alzheimer’s disease was tragic, and we should do everything we can that is ethically proper to help others afflicted with it. But I have no doubt that he would have urged our nation to look to adult stem cell research — which has yielded many clinical successes — and away from the destruction of developing human lives, which has yielded none," Clark wrote.

"Those who would trade on Ronald Reagan’s legacy should first consider his own words," Clark concluded.