Romney’s own change of heart evolved not from personal experience but rather from a purposeful course of study. I know this because I know the man who instructed him in 2005 on the basics of embryonic life during the stem-cell research debate then taking place in Massachusetts. As governor at the time, Romney was under intense pressure to help flip a state law that protected embryos from stem-cell research. Some of that pressure came from Harvard University, Romney’s alma mater, where scientists hoped to assume a leading role in stem-cell research.
The politically expedient choice was obvious, but Romney took a more thoughtful approach and sought to educate himself before staking out a position. Enter William Hurlbut, a physician and professor of biomedical ethics at Stanford University Medical School. For several hours, Hurlbut and Romney met in the governor’s office and went through the dynamics of conception, embryonic development and the repercussions of research that targets nascent human life. It was not a light lunch.
The result of that conversation and others was a pro-life Romney, who kept his campaign promise to honor the state’s democratically asserted preference for abortion choice but also began a personal path that happened to serve him well, at least theoretically, among social conservatives. Was his conversion sincere? No one can know another’s heart, but Hurlbut is convinced that it was.
“Several things about our conversation still stand out strongly in my mind,” Hurlbut told me. “First, he clearly recognized the significance of the issue, not just as a current controversy but as a matter that would define the character of our culture way into the future.
“Second, it was obvious that he had put in a real effort to understand both the scientific prospects and the broader social implications. Finally, I was impressed by both his clarity of mind and sincerity of heart. . . . He recognized that this was not a matter of purely abstract theory or merely pragmatic governance, but a crucial moment in how we are to regard nascent human life and the broader meaning of medicine in the service of life.”
Whether one agrees with Hurlbut’s appraisal or Romney’s conclusions, this was at least a flip-flop of a higher order. Would that all our politics were so painstakingly crafted.
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