“Adults” Missing In Stem-Cell Debate


By: Robert E. Meyer

Once again, the consequences and motives of the president’s veto regarding the bill to expand embryonic stem-cell research have been grossly misrepresented. The issue is depicted as though the president deliberately invoked this issue to energize the conservative base. But was it Bush who initiated this new bill? Wasn’t it Bush who has been consistent on this stem-cell policy since day one?

Embryonic stem-cell research has not been banned. It simply won’t be subject to additional federal government funding beyond the current scope of existing stem-cell lines. If this method has so much short-term potential, why aren’t private companies flocking to sink money into this venture? For those that have, are the results so unpromising that only government money will save the venture? After all, does the federal government need to fund companies that are in the businesses of oil exploration and refining? Private sector lack of progress is betraying and contradicting the emotional appeals of those who are expecting embryonic stem-cell research to deliver tomorrow’s miracles.

It’s interesting that secularists often complain about government money (their tax money) being used to promote social policies based on religious principles, yet nobody sees a problem with using government money to promote an activity many find so morally objectionable.

Let’s also get over the silly rhetoric that those who support the president’s position, or a similar one, are ignorant Luddites opposed to scientific progress, or that they’re harming people by deliberately blocking research.

The real shame is that the alternative is rarely spoken of in glowing terms: that is, adult stem-cells, or those extracted from umbilical cord blood. Each time the subject of “stem cells” is brought up in the public arena, we are presented with a phony scenario where some people are against it, while others are for it. We rarely hear–in fact I have never yet heard–the merits, or the pros and cons of the embryonic versus adult stem-cells issue ever objectively debated. That’s what makes this whole approach so disingenuous. You can’t help but wonder what dirty little secret is being hidden.

Why put all efforts into embryonic research when you can get virtually everyone who currently objects on board by promoting adult stem-cell research instead? The liberals who support the unfettered exploration of embryonic stem-cells, are so often the ones telling us that we need to compromise, that we need to negotiate, that we need to quit harping on issues that divide people, as it pertains to different issues. Well, who are the ones acting in opposition to their own cherished procedures?

We seldom hear the truth; that any advances realized from embryonic stem-cells for curing diseases would be achieved well into the future, if at all. This glimmer of potential, of course, mitigates any “absurd” moral objections that opponents might bring into the discussion. Such people are ridiculed for prostrating to a “clump of cells.” or POC. We see the same euthanasia/abortion mindset projected into the stem-cell debate. Any number of fearless philosopher-kings dogmatically declare that “a Zygote isn’t a person,” but can any of them tell you when personhood starts? It reminds me of the cogency of an argument I got from an atheist once; “there is no God, but I don’t know how the universe came into being.” Anything not functioning at its full cognitive or developmental potential can be deemed as not fully human, and thus expendable.

It may well be that the embryonic variety of stem cells has greater long-tern potential, but the adult cells have already shown positive results. We just never hear much about them. Some of the euphoria about embryonic research should have been tempered by the discovery that a South Korean cloning expert, under governmental pressure, had fabricated positive research findings. Chances are, most people have already forgotten.

All too often, when we attempt to make decisions on the basis of utilitarian ethics, we ask only the question of what can be done, when we should be asking what ought to be done instead. Let’s be certain that bioethics keeps a tether on biotechnology.

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