June 11, 2007
It isnt often that I am impressed with Republicans in their handling of pro-life issues, but last week's floor debate in the House on easing the Presidents restrictions on stem cell funding was one of those times. The arguments by the largely Republican opponents of the stem cell legislation were measured, rational, and scientific. In contrast the arguments of the bills supporters shouldnt even qualify as demagoguery. Histrionics would be more apt.
In speaking out against the bill Republicans were on top of their game. They clarified thatin spite of their opponents spinthere is no ban on embryonic stem cell research. They pointed out that the research is not struggling or under-funded, but already has over $4 billion designated for it over the next decade from the public and private sector. In response to the perennial charge that they and the President are against science they reminded the listener that the current bill is in essence one passed two years ago and that two years is an eternity in cutting edge science. They argued that embryo-destructive research is quickly becoming yesterdays news. One member even pointed out that the Nuremburg Code should make us weary of deriving medical knowledge from the destruction of a humanno matter how small or young it happens to be.
Their opponents, in contrast, seemed to have grown intellectually flabby, gorging on their perceived high levels of public support. They made specious arguments that by only allowing supernumerary IVF embryos to be destroyed they were instituting needed ethical constraints. (Note that currently the ethical constraint for federal funding is that no embryos be destroyed. This argument assumes the part to be greater than the whole, known to be a fallacy for centuries.) They vaguely and generically referenced America falling behind the rest of the world in stem cell research. They belittled the usefulness of adult stem cells, in the face of most evidence. And when all else failed, they fell back to lame arguments from authorityfrom thousands of scientists (both the well meaning and the self-interested), to that pillar of cellular-biological erudition, Michael J. Fox.
Perhaps most reprehensible was the way in which many members invoked sick friends, family, and loved ones. One cannot help but sympathize with them in their struggles, and pray for their well being. At the same time, when embryonic stem cellsand only those derived from destroyed embryosare presented as the only possible hope for every ailment, large or small, one cannot help but detect a despicable cynicism at workeven for politicians.
Following thirty minutes of the pro-life forces arguing against the bill dispassionately, from bases in reason, science, and secular ethics, Speaker Pelosi ended the floor debate by calling embryonic stem cell research biblical in its power to cure. Speaker Pelosi defended the bill by invoking the Good Book, and yet her ilk would have us think its the pro-lifers who thump their Bibles in opposition science. The pro-life Republicans who spoke yesterday are owed a debt of gratitude for showing just how wrong that view is.