Political obfuscation in the stem-cell research issue


By: Robert E. Meyer

One of the most common complaints registered during the recent election season, is that certain policy positions of political candidates are wrongly characterized, or worse, just outright falsely presented by the opposition. Nowhere has this trend been more prominent than in regards to the stem-cell research positions of politically conservative candidates at virtually every level of government.

For some reason, probably strategic and, in order to play on emotion, the argument is usually presented as a false dilemma: Some are for stem-cell research, while some others are against it. I have seen no instances where such a dichotomy of the issue is actually the case.

For example, during the November elections, I saw special interest groups playing the “against stem-cell research” card, against candidates both at the local and presidential levels. In neither case were such assertions true. The resulting innuendo is that these candidates are somehow lacking compassion, because they want to deprive suffering people of the certain cures to their ailments, based on an unrealistic or archaic ethical concern.

The real argument is between the use of either embryonic or the adult varieties in stem-cell research, not whether or not stem-cell research should be done. The question is whether medical research will, or ought to be, tethered to ethical concerns, namely the sanctity of human life, or whether we ought to discard these concerns for the assumed possibility of greater utility ascribed to the embryonic method.

Research with adult stem-cells is deemed as “less promising,” even though it has been the experimental means by which actual breakthroughs have occurred. For this reason, I feel the need to ponder the motivations of those who make the aforementioned false accusations.

I have always wondered why it is necessary to demonize nearly one-third of Americans who morally object to embryonic stem-cell research, based on that group’s definition of when human life begins, rather than to collectively focus on the proven promise of adult stem-cell research instead.

I believe the answer lies not in appeals to compassion, scientific reality, or any rational motive. Instead, I think that it comes down to ideology and, a clash of worldviews. Legal protection accorded for the embryo, at least as it prohibits federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, is seen as strengthening the standing of those opposing abortion and the judicial philosophy asserted in the Roe v. Wade (1973) Supreme Court decision. It almost seems as though “embryonic only or embryonic mostly” advocates, are trying to poke a finger in the eye of principled pro-lifers and, at the same time, crush the mythological hegemony they believe is dominating and deterring the progress in both the social and political milieu.

All this takes on a special significance because the next presidential administration will be less culturally friendly to pro-life objectives. In fact, according to the ethicist Robert George, Obama is the most pro-abortion candidate ever to hold a prominent public office. In a recent essay, George reveals the senatorial voting record of the president-elect. According to the piece, Obama is so beholden to the exclusivity of embryonic stem-cell research, that he has actually gone so far as to vote against public funding for adult stem-cell research. Those who are concerned about pro-life issues, will need to be vigilant as never before.

Science can only answer the question of what can be done. It cannot answer the question of what ought to be done. That is the ethical factor the pro-lifer brings to the debate. But before we can even begin the debate, let’s at least be accurate about the positions taken by each side, lest we otherwise suspect ill motives. As the social commentator Richard Weaver once lamented, “Nothing good can come if the will is wrong.”

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