Know-Nothing Bush Blocking Stem Cell Miracles
May 25, 2005
When the House on Wednesday took the rare step of defying Bush's wishes and passed a bill that would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, Bush responded with his typical obtuseness. Though the bill would allow research only on frozen embryos that otherwise would be destroyed as medical waste, Bush got on his hobbyhorse.
"This bill would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life," he said.
He also used the phrase "respect for human life in all its stages."
And he placed on an equal level the "emerging human life" of the embryo created in the lab and the human life of an already living, breathing human being who is suffering from a terrible disease.
"Real human lives are involved--both the lives of those with diseases that might find cures from this research, and the lives of the embryos that will be destroyed in the process," he said.
By putting it that way, he tries to neutralize the argument that his anti-science approach is not cruel to those living, breathing human beings who are suffering today from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease, juvenile diabetes, or a host of other diseases and conditions that could be cured by embryonic stem cell research.
But he didn't really put them on an equal plane. He privileged the embryo. That's why he surrounded himself with families that used frozen embryos to have babies.
He didn't have victims of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease, or diabetes to the East Room of the White House for his announcement. And lucky for him. He'd have been heckled off the stage.
That Bush's press conference was a bone to the religious right there should be no doubt.
Bush twice singled out a group called Nightlight Christian Adoptions for praise. Its website (nightlight.org/about_us.asp.) says it strives to "bring glory and honor to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." One of its goals is "to share God's love by . . . recognizing and advocating the personhood of pre-born children."
Bush said "there is no such thing as a spare embryo." But even Nightlight Christian Adoptions is hard-pressed to make that claim. On its website, it says it is "helping some of the more than 400,000 frozen embryos realize their ultimate purpose--life." But are there really 400,000 women who want to carry those embryos to term? To date, Nightlight Christian Adoptions has managed to bring all of 81 embryos into this world as babies.
Bush and the Christian right are fetishizing fertilization. It doesn't matter to them whether that fertilization happens in the lab or during sex. The minute fertilization occurs, they essentially grant that embryo personhood and all the protections that come with it.
This fetish leads them to be against all abortion, and against all embryonic stem cell research.
Even when frozen embryos left over in the fridge at the artificial insemination clinic would otherwise be thrown away.
Or even when, as in South Korea, scientists make an embroyonic clone that will never be implanted in a woman's uterus and thus never become a human being.
Korean scientists figured out how to take the nucleus from a patient's skin cell and implant it in an egg donated by a woman after the nucleus from that egg cell was removed. Then the patient's nucleus reproduces in the egg to make the embryonic clone.
It's against the law in South Korea to implant a cloned embryo into a woman's uterus, so the issue of whether the embryo would turn into a human being should be moot.
This breakthrough offers the possibility of extraordinary advances. Cells from the cloned embryo could eventually be transplanted back into the original patient, thus greatly reducing the risk of rejection.
The promise of therapeutic cloning is now upon us, but not here in the United States.
The chairman of Bush's Bioethics Council, Dr. Leon Kass, is against it, in part because it "exploits women as egg donors not for their own benefit."
But what if you're the wife of a man who has Lou Gehrig's disease or what if you're the niece of a woman who has Parkinson's? And what if, by donating your egg, you could save your husband's or your aunt's life?
Who is Dr. Kass to say that you are being exploited?
And who is George Bush to stand in the way?
That is paternalism of the cruelest order.
-- Matthew Rothschild