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In praise of Governor Crist (and Speaker Rubio)


Contrary to the fears of Tallahassee pro-life leaders—and to the consternation of embryonic stem cell research advocates—Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced Jan. 31 that he would not support legislative efforts to provide state funding for embryonic stem cell research (ESC), in spite of campaign pledges to favor such efforts. Crist’s reversal was a huge surprise to both sides of the debate, but it wasn’t exactly a change in position. Crist has proposed in his budget $20 million of state funds for stem cell research from non-embryonic sources—other than embryonic stem cell lines in existence in August 2001 when President George W. Bush issued a ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. (For more on Crist’s announcement, see related article.)

Stem cell research in which human embryos are destroyed in order to obtain the materials which some scientists are convinced may alleviate or even cure debilitating diseases has been at the center of a national debate for some years now. Pro-lifers object to such research as unethical since one life is destroyed in the hope of benefiting other lives. As my father always taught me—it’s never right to do wrong to do right.

Besides the ethical problems with embryonic stem cell research, there’s plenty of reason to question the promise of this research when stem cells from ethically permissible sources—like adult stem cells, amniotic fluids and cord blood—have shown more evidence of hope than have embryonic stem cells.

During his campaign for governor last year, Crist repeatedly advocated ESC state funding and criticized President Bush’s veto last summer of federal funding for such. For more on Crist’s views on embryonic stem cell research, see my interview with him first published in our Aug. 24, 2006, edition.

So, the obvious question is: why did Crist reverse his position? And, has he changed his position?

Although the president of the Florida Senate, Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, favors ESC and indicated last year it would be a priority of his this session when he took leadership in the Senate, Crist knew getting such funding through the Florida House of Representatives would be difficult, if not impossible. House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, made it clear he would fight ESC funding. It appears, then, that Crist decided it was not wise to battle his own party in the House—at least for now.

While making it clear that he still believes ESC funding is appropriate, Crist said he recognized the “angst” it caused for some and he would respect those concerns. “What is important is we get this started … that we have a dedicated funding mechanism. We have to start somewhere,” Crist told reporters Jan. 31.

Clearly, it’s a very positive development that Crist has dropped any attempt to push ESC funding—at this time. He deserves praise for understanding pro-lifers’ “angst” and it’s helpful to know that this fight is one that will not have to be fought in this session.

It’s also clear, however, that Crist has not changed his views and that a state program for stem cell research will have to be constantly scrutinized to insure it abides by the ethical restrictions preventing ESC research, and against any changes to those restrictions in the future.

What shouldn’t be lost in all the attention to Crist’s announcement is the crucial role played by Speaker Rubio. Apart from his staunch opposition to ESC funding, Crist very well may have decided this matter differently this year.

I agree with Florida Baptist Convention legislative consultant Bill Bunkley—Crist deserves praise for this decision and we hope it will be the first of other decisions favoring the pro-life cause in Tallahassee. But, let’s also praise Rubio, knowing that his principled stand on this issue was absolutely critical.