by Molly Ivins
Bush administration may be fixing to fish or cut bait on the stem cell research issue, except it appears it will actually try to straddle the issue. Good luck to them.
Those who believe life begins the instant an egg is fertilized by a sperm hold a theological position not subject to compromise. The pro-life movement initially opposed fetal-cell research because it thought it would somehow legitimize abortion, or allow women having abortions to think at least some good would come of it. Actually, stem cell research is done on left-over embryos in petri dishes that went unused during fertilization treatments, so we're not even talking about the possibility of a human life. Do you know anyone with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes or a spinal cord injury? Stem-cell research presents a real chance to find a cure for those conditions.
Biologically speaking, an embryo is not a person. About 25 percent of embryos never make their way through a woman's plumbing in time to attach themselves to the womb wall -- they are washed out with the menstrual flood. We do not mourn them as dead people. Natalie Angier, in her book "Woman, an Intimate Geography," says, "We all know about the high rate of miscarriages during the first trimester of pregnancy, and we have all heard that the majority of those miscarriages are blessed expulsions, eliminating embryos with chromosomes too distorted for being." Speaking of all the bad sperm and all the bad eggs the body rids itself of naturally through a process called apoptosis, Angier observes, "In that sense, we are good eggs, every one of us."
The theory that stem cell research is the beginning of the infamous slippery slope toward heaven knows what Frankenstein experiments in future is genuinely worth considering. The more we mess with nature, the more we seem to learn about how ignorant we are. Nevertheless, the law draws distinctions on all kinds of slippery slopes: The difference between misdemeanor theft and felony theft is one penny. You can drink legally when you are 21 years old, but not when you are 20 years and 364 days old. In nine states, you can be executed if your IQ is 70, but not if it's 69. A woman can get an abortion in the first trimester for almost any reason, but must show serious threat to her life or health by the third trimester. These are all artificial distinctions. But society is capable of drawing them.
The depressing part of the Bush administration's lengthy indecision over what is a no-brainer to those without the theological commitment to the fertilized-egg-as-human-being position is the political motive. It has been widely reported that Karl Rove, a.k.a., "Bush's brain," wants to outlaw stem cell research as part of his grand strategy to win Catholic voters over to the Republican Party permanently. This doesn't do anything to help those with Alzheimer's, but it would help the Republicans. That's some morality.
But Rove's political calculations appear to be off again: Polls show about 70 percent of all Catholics favor stem-cell research. That helpful House trio, Reps. Dick Armey, Tom DeLay and J.C. Watts, wrote Bush a letter calling stem-cell research "an industry of death." Funny, I've never heard any of them describe arms manufacturers that way.
As we inch into new areas of research that raise all kinds of bioethical questions, I often think we are lucky to be able to debate them openly and vigorously, for we sense the new and the strange, and are wary. It is the old wrongs that are harder to come to grips with.
As Tom Paine once wrote, "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises, at first, a formidable outcry in defense of custom."
July 10, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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