Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Is It Life-Saving or Isn’t It?

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth

Pro-lifers have good reason to be happy about U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth’s decision this week to prevent the Obama administration from expanding embryonic stem cell research.

In his decision, Lamberth determined that an executive order signed by President Obama in March 2009 was at odds with an appropriations bill rider commonly known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding of research in which human embryos “are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”

Judge Lamberth used concise language in his ruling:

ESC [embryonic stem-cell] research is clearly research in which an embryo is destroyed. To conduct ESC research, ESC must be derived from an embryo. The process of deriving ESCs from an embryo results in the destruction of the embryo. Thus, ESC research necessarily depends upon the destruction of a human embryo.

Despite defendants’ attempt to separate the derivation of ESCs from research on ESCs, the two cannot be separated.

Be on the Lookout for Media Spin

While Judge Lamberth’s ruling is certainly welcome news, let us also not forget that the most outspoken proponents of ESCR are attempting, as ever, to fit this decision into the tired old Unsophisticated, Slack-jawed Religious Bumpkins vs. Educated, Enlightened Scientists narrative.

And countless writers for mainstream media outlets — whether knowingly or not — are helping to keep the spin going.

Notice, for instance, the opening paragraph of this article on Judge Lamberth’s decision in the Wall Street Journal:

A U.S. judge blocked the federal government from funding research involving human embryonic stem cells, a surprise blow to one of the most promising yet controversial areas of current scientific research.

“Controversial”? Certainly no one could argue with that. But “promising”?

Not a single disease has been treated using embryonic stem cell research. Meanwhile, adult stem cell research — which is perfectly ethical — has been used to treat at least 73.

One can’t help but wonder how many more diseases have to be treated using adult stem cell research before it’s universally recognized that it is there, and rather not in the embryonic realm, that the real promise lies.

The next paragraph in the WSJ article is no better:

The ruling, which could affect hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, was cheered by some Christian groups as a defense of human life and denounced by scientists who called it a major setback for medical research.

The by-line on this article lists three (3) authors, and even though the word “some” was inserted (and rightly so) before “Christian groups”, not one of the writers saw fit to include any qualifier before “scientists”. This omission clearly gives the impression that scientists are monolithically supportive of embryonic stem research, even though this is quite obviously false.

“Life-Saving” or “Potentially Life Saving”?

It’s also interesting to note a couple of comments from White House spokesman Bill Burton as quoted in this AP article:

“The president said very plainly that this is important, life-saving research,” spokesman Bill Burton told reporters. “We’re reviewing all possibilities.”

But note the very next paragraph:

“We’re reviewing it so we can keep this important, potentially life-saving research moving forward in the most ethical way possible,” he added.

It’s hard to see how large human beings destroying smaller human beings constitutes “the most ethical way possible” to conduct research.

Notice also that Obama’s spokesman first says ESCR is “life-saving research,” but then he calls it “potentially life-saving research”.

Well, which is it? It’s a bit of an understatement to say there’s a significant difference between the two.

Is ESCR “life-saving” — meaning, is it saving lives right now — or is it merely “potentially life-saving” — meaning that it is not life-saving right now, but rather that it maybe, possibly, could, at some point in the future, perhaps, be upgraded to the status of being actually life-saving?

We already know the answer, of course, but this slip-up illustrates that the biggest advocates for the snake oil salesmanship that is embryonic stem cell research can’t keep their talking points straight.

UPDATE, 5/16/11: Check out other pro-life blog posts on the topic of stem cell research at Life Report’s Pro-Life Link Party here.

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