President George W. Bush’s policy allowed research only on stem cell lines that had already been established. The idea was to facilitate studies without creating incentives to destroy additional embryos. Obama, by contrast, took the view that the destruction of additional embryos (those “left over” at fertility clinics) is essential to the march of science. . . .
The problem with embryonic stem cell research is that the goals are so desirable that they override our usual moral impulses. Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, wrote in 2006 in The New Atlantis, “It is very hard for us to describe something higher than health, or more important than the relief of suffering, so when relief comes at a cost, even the cost of cherished principles or self-evident truths, we all too often pay up.”
The court decision against Obama’s policy on stem cell research is a rare exception, which may induce us to reconsider the wisdom of what we have sanctioned. “Our problem is not that we are lacking in ethical principles,” says Levin, “but rather that we are forgetful of them.”