The $64 Million Question In The Stem-Cell Debate


By: Robert E. Meyer

As often occurs, a letter to the editor in a local paper prompted this piece. The writer of the letter attempted to showcase President Bush’s hypocrisy regarding his veto of the embryonic stem-cell legislation, and his Iraq policy. The writer complained that Bush claims to be a defender of innocent life (the inalienable right to life as outlined in the Declaration of Independence) as it concerns the stem-cell debate, but that he takes innocent life because he is responsible for the civilian deaths in Iraq.

But equating a veto of the embryonic stem-cell research bill to deaths in Iraq, labors on the top two false assumptions.

First, this writer along with others of his persuasion assume that the casualties in Iraq, whether civilian or military, are willfully the product of the president’s wishes, and ultimately have nothing to do with national defense.

The president has a constitutional mandate to defend the U.S. from its enemies. Unfortunately, that often involves the tragic deaths of military personnel who have sworn to uphold that very Constitution–a lesser of two evils scenario.

Secondly, we have a contingent of people who are convinced that embryonic stem-cells are necessary for break-through research simply because they are theoretically more versatile (are thought to have a greater variety of therapeutic applications). Such a conviction is more a philosophical position, informed by functionalist and utilitarian priorities, than it is a factual scientific conclusion.

Actually, the president observed a metaphorical separation between religious conviction and public policy with this veto decision. He is not allowing a majority with hysterical faith in miraculous embryonic stem-cell cures, to override the conscientious objections held by a minority of Americans concerning the use of public funds for ethically questionable research.

Many of those supporting embryonic stem-cell research, have themselves hardly considered the issue critically, but parrot talking points they have heard from news sources. Any discussion of the different varieties of research usually ends up in a demonstration that the issue is really too arcane for them to grapple with.

One of the chief complaints is that a minority of “religious zealots,” are holding back research progress that is favored by a majority in America, or so they attempt to frame the issue . Have you ever noticed that being in the minority has never stopped atheists and their sympathizers from circumventing the desires of the majority concerning issues related to publicly acknowledging God? Of course, when it’s someone else’s liberty of conscience hanging in the balance, it’s hard to be as principled.

A better question we might ask is why are we allowing even private money to be used for embryonic research, if it really terminates human life? A related question is concerning what scientific breakthroughs have come in private sector research that justify a demand for governmental financial aid?

The writer, along with others, always have a kicker. They love to point out that excess embryos from fertility treatments get discarded, and thus would be destroyed anyway. Perhaps so, but many people who oppose embryonic stem-cell research, also oppose fertility therapies that result in the creation and destruction of superfluous embryos. In addition, there are opportunities to adopt at least some of these excess embryos which currently exist.

Pro-life positions aren’t applied “willy-nilly” to a handful of selected issues, but are a consistent red thread spread through the fabric of life. For example, we favor adoption over abortion, but ultimately favor policies and practices that diminish unwanted pregnancies to start with. In an era of liberal attitudes toward “access to unlimited birth-control at will,” have we seen fewer unwanted pregnancies? This is an indictment against permissive attitudes.

There are 64 million dollar questions in this debate. Why do so many people insist on forcing America to publicly fund embryonic stem-cell research, when we could get almost unanimous agreement if we changed the focus of research toward adult or cord blood stem-cells, where promise actually exists?

Why are people like myself, who enthusiastically support research with adult or cord blood stem-cells, impugned as being against “stem-cell research,” implying that embryonic research is the only viable type of research?

Why do news outlets constantly fail to differentiate between types of stem-cells, rather than simply using the vague term “stem-cell research,” in their reporting?

All this only leads one to the conclusion that either something sinister or a profound ignorance shrouds better judgment on this important topic.

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