60 Minutes, the popular CBS news magazine show, recently did a story on the issue of frozen embryos, stem cell research, and the seeming discrepancy between President Bush’s ‘pro-life’ policy which prohibits federal dollars for embryonic stem cell research because it causes the destruction of the embryo and the fact that thousands of embryos are routinely destroyed each month in fertility clinics around the country. In the story, CBS news reporter Leslie Stahl interviewed stem cell researchers, fertility specialists, and a member of Bush’s Council on Bioethics, as well as couples who currently have leftover frozen embryos in storage.

As many know, the infant (no pun intended) science of using stem cells to create human tissue shows promise for medicine because stem cells can be stimulated to grow into new human tissue, giving doctors the ability to treat organ disease with greater chances of success. One of the earliest researchers of stem cell development, James Thompson, showed a line of stem cells that had been transformed into human heart cells. The belief is that these cells could replace damaged heart tissue in patients, offering better chances for recovery, lower the chance of tissue rejection, and reduce overall chances of death due to heart injuries. This example is just one of many possible futures for medicine through stem cell research. And embryonic stem cells offer the best opportunity to tailor tissue for a specific purpose. Such scientific advances would seem to promote life for already living humans, or cure humans who are hanging to life in precarious medical situations, something that Bush and his party seemed eager to advance during the whole Terry Schiavo grandstanding last year. So, according to their actions in the Schiavo case, it would seem logical to assume that Bush would support this research.

But as with many things from the Bush administration, logic is not at the forefront of their decision-making processes. Despite the president’s desire to see things as either black or white, right or wrong, the fact is that the world is seldom that accommodating. Because in this case, in order to support the measures that would promote life for the living (or in the case of Schiavo and others like her, the lingering), advancing the research of embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of the embryos themselves. The question then, is whether these embryos are really life, in the sense that we know it.

According to Robert George, a member of the Council on Bioethics, the president’s position is that an embryo is human life, with all the same rights and dignity of a fully developed, fully formed human being. And to destroy one for stem cell research is the same killing a person walking down the street.

George says, “The principle that the president laid down and which I support is one that says all human beings, irrespective of age or size or stage of development or condition of dependency, possess the same human dignity, because human dignity is inherent.”

Yet, instinctively we know that Bush does not believe this, or else he would not have signed a law while governor of Texas that allows family members to decide when to pull the plug on life support measures for patients who can’t make the call themselves. We know this because recent congressional investigations into the Hurricane Katrina response by the government shows a lack of effort to save as many lives as possible. We know this because of the signing statements Bush made regarding the use of torture. And with regards to frozen embryos, we know that this “inherent dignity” is little more than talking points to drum up support from his religious base because laws allow the destruction of thousands of frozen embryos each year when couples decide they are no longer needed.

The news story went on to report that there are over 400,000 frozen embryos currently in storage in the U.S. Many will never be used for pregnancy, and in fact will slowly deteriorate if kept in their cryogenic condition indefinitely. Many others will simply be discarded. Some will make their way into privately funded research programs, but none will be eligible for federally funded research that could ultimately increase the quality and ‘dignity’ of life for the living because of Bush’s ban on such studies.

To insist that frozen embryos are indeed human beings at all is a stretch. Most scientists and medical professionals do not consider an embryo to be viable until it passes 22 weeks of gestation, and even then could hardly be expected to grow into a successfully functioning human being if brought out of the womb. The Catholic website, www.newadvent.org says that viability is not safely presumed until the 8th month. Clearly, there is some contention about when a fetus becomes a human being with the inherent rights of a born person, but few disagree that a frozen embryo is about as close to being human as a cup of freeze dried coffee would be. Sure the potential is there, but unrealized potential is just that- unrealized.

In his 2006 State of the Union speech, Bush proclaimed that, “Human life is a gift from our Creator — and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.” Yet when it comes to frozen embryos, this is hardly true. In fact, such embryos are created in a petri dish in a laboratory by human scientists. And they are discarded with regularity. And the president knows it. Why then can they not be used to advance the science of medicine that would better the condition of human life? For a man willing to sacrifice the living in poorly thought out wars, why the hesitation to use that which will never be life to help heal the sick or cure the diseases that plague humanity?

There is no rhyme or reason to this president’s policies, no logical strain to follow. Instead, what we get are inconsistent ideas that make good sound bites but fall apart when examined as a whole. When it comes to stem cell research and frozen embryos headed to the scrap heap, the only sane choice-the only humane choice- is to use what we have to make life better. After all, isn’t that what pro-life is all about?