However one feels about federal funding of stem cell research from human embryos, no one can deny that a lot of homework and soul-searching went into President Bush's decision.
"I have made this decision with great care and pray it is the right one," he said in his first prime time TV address to the nation. He came out in favor of federal grants for research into existing embryonic stem cell lines (about 60 of them worldwide) where the decisions to kill the embryos were already a fait accompli. But he would deny federal funding to create any new lines of embryonic stem cells.
The decision was the most restrictive use of federal money the administration could endorse short of a ban. Most of his critics - both those who wanted a more expansive embryonic research policy (many research scientists and pro-choice politicians) and those who opposed even his limited funding plan (many clergy and pro-life politicians) agreed he was in a tough spot.
Bush himself acknowledged this was where science and morality intersected. "At its core," he said, "this issue forces us to confront fundamental questions about the beginning of life and the ends of science."
When such momentous issues of conscience are at stake, Bush knew no matter what he decided he'd draw fire. But presidents are paid to make hard choices. The people just have to hope they go about decision-making in a thoughtful, conscientious, prayerful way. Bush surely did that.
In his own research the president consulted worldwide with religious leaders, scientists, researchers, medical ethicists as well as family, friends and grass-roots Americans.
He found plenty of strong opinions and beliefs, but no consensus. We believe that Bush's strong presentation Thursday night - he spent most of his talk educating his audience in the complexities of embryonic research - is a start toward molding a consensus.
The presidential council he named to oversee the research, chaired by renowned University of Chicago bioethicist Leon Kass, can be expected to play a key role in that process.
This much is certain, however. The president's thoughtful words on embryonic research was not the end of the great debate; it was just the start.