Dystopian Sci-Fi Shapes White House Stem-Cell Policy

News & Politics

One of the more annoying qualities of the Bush White House's policy on stem-cell research the last several years is its incoherence. It's not just that the president has blocked potentially life-saving medical research, it's that his rationale for doing so ends up contradicting itself.

As Bush sees it, embryos are human life, and should therefore not be subjected to medical testing. The White House, at one point last year, went so far as to argue that it's literally "murder" to conduct research on these embryos.

At the same time, however, the same White House brags about the president's support for privately-funded stem-cell research, and touts Bush's support for IVF clinics, where "people" are stored and destroyed all the time. There's just no consistency to the ideological approach, but that didn't stop the president from vetoing a popular stem-cell research bill, twice.

I've long wondered how Bush came to embrace such a bizarre position, and assumed he was just winging it, making up a rationale as he went along. As it turns out, that's not the case -- the president was influenced by a dystopian sci-fi novel. Actually, he was influenced by portions of a dystopian sci-fi novel.

In the new issue of Commentary magazine, former Bush advisor Jay Lefkowitz explained how he helped convince the president to oppose public funding of additional stem-cell lines: he used "Brave New World." (via ThinkProgress)

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."
Wow, that's really dumb.

To be fair, Lefkowitz's article doesn't suggest that reading from Huxley was the only thing that convinced the president to take a bizarre position on the issue, but based on his piece, reading "passages" from the Huxley novel seems to have had an effect.

It suggests the White House, for all its rhetoric, was taking the policy debate about as seriously as it takes any substantive discussion -- which is to say, not at all. Taking a step "off the cliff"? We're talking about a controversy in which medical researchers would use embryos from IVF clinics that would otherwise be discarded. This bears no resemblance to "a future in which humans would be bred in hatcheries," unless someone is just looking for an excuse to block the research in the first place.

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