Marlowe's Shade

Monday, July 18, 2005

Stem Cell Agenda Becoming Clearer

Last week I commented on a relatively unfamiliar topic for me, embryonic stem cell research. I was still trying to get my head around why ES research was being pushed so hard. This Chicago Tribune column by Steve Chapman was helpful in cutting to the heart of the matter. First he explodes some of the myths about the current embryos available for research:

By now, we all know the crucial question about embryonic stem-cell research. Advocates have put it plainly: Should we let unused frozen embryos residing in fertility clinics be dumped down the drain--or should we use them to cure diabetes, Alzheimer's, paralysis and other health scourges?

Confronted with that question, the U.S. House of Representatives voted last month to provide federal funding for experimentation on these embryos, despite the threat of a presidential veto. As Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) put it, the only embryos that would be destroyed for medical research are those that "would otherwise be destroyed. That is, embryos that held the promise of life but are certain not to fulfill that promise."

It's a persuasive argument that many well-meaning people find hard to reject--but one that is constructed almost entirely out of myths. The choice we face is one very different from that portrayed by its advocates.

Start with the claim that 400,000 frozen embryos otherwise would go to waste. The truth is that most of them are anything but "surplus." According to a 2003 survey by researchers at the RAND Corp., a California think tank, 88 percent of them are being stored for their original function: to make babies for their parents.

Just 2.2 percent of the embryos have been designated for disposal and less than 3 percent for research. The latter group amounts to about 11,000 embryos.

OK, so ES research advocates may have exaggerated the number of embryos available. But according to Chapman, the deception doesn't stop there.

The biggest myth, though, is that scientists will be content with using existing, leftover embryos. The 11,000 embryos, according to the RAND study, would yield no more than 275 stem-cell lines. For the task of curing major diseases, an article in Scientific American last year said "hundreds of thousands" of lines may be needed--which "could require millions of discarded embryos."

But there is no prospect of getting millions of discarded embryos. So what will advocates of embryonic stem-cell research do when their needs exceed the supply? They will ask for government subsidies to produce additional embryos for experimentation.

Actually, that's not what they will do--it's what they've already done. Last year, California voters approved $3 billion in state funding for stem-cell research, including experiments on embryos created through "therapeutic cloning." That ballot initiative had the enthusiastic endorsement of such groups as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.

As in my last post on ES research, I can't help seeing parallels to the slippery slope of the right-to-die movement. And in any debate involving the sanctity of life, one small compromise is a the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. Chapman spells it out for us:

So why have the advocates pushed for the much narrower federal bill passed by the House? Because they want Americans to get used to the idea of destroying human embryos in research. Then it will be a small step to get the public to accept what they really want--creating human life in order to destroy it.

And on a final pessimistic note, we see the same hallmarks of the euthanasia debate in public support based not on facts but perception manipulated by a sympathetic media. As important as it is, this is not just a debate on morality. The facts are simply not getting out.
papijoe 7:12 AM