Politics & Policy

Stem-Cell Hard Sell

After Reagan's death, the campaign for embryo research grows even more dishonest.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the July 12, 2004, issue of National Review.

Nancy Reagan believes that increased government funding for embryonic-stem cell research could keep other families from going through the trauma of Alzheimer’s disease. To her credit, she has never said that her husband would have favored such funding, or suggested that Republicans have an obligation to support it in memory of him.

Not all advocates of the funding have been so restrained. Two days after Reagan’s death, William Safire was writing in the New York Times that increased funding would be the Gipper’s last victory. Sen. Orrin Hatch–who pledged during his last Republican primary campaign to oppose embryo research, but then broke his promise–said, “Maybe one of the small blessings that will come from [Reagan’s] passing will be a greater opportunity for Nancy to work on this issue.” The Washington Post ran an editorial that week arguing against the memorials that some Reaganites want–Reagan on the dime, for instance. A more appropriate way to honor Reagan, according to the Post: increased funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

Newsweek published a Reagan memorial issue; its next issue included three pieces making the case for increased stem-cell funding. The first was a news article that played up the potential benefits of research for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. In the second, columnist Jonathan Alter speculated that Reagan would have favored it. And in the third, Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis wrote that the research could cure Alzheimer’s. She even wrote that promoting the research could be God’s redemptive purpose for her family’s suffering.

Even before Reagan’s death, the debate over funding for embryonic stem-cell research was heating up. Letters were circulating on Capitol Hill demanding increased funding; eventually 58 senators and 206 members of the House signed them and sent them to President Bush. Liberals support increased funding, on the merits–but they also believe that the issue will hurt President Bush, and pro-lifers. Some Republicans, like Mrs. Reagan, join them in supporting the funding; many others are running scared. The national media want to make this summer a reprise of the summer of 2001, when they campaigned relentlessly for the funding (Newsweek ran a slanted cover story then, too), and tried to box in Bush.

A CAMPAIGN OF INACCURACY

The campaign for increased funding is trafficking heavily in inaccuracy. While the vast majority of the people involved in that campaign are no doubt sincere in their advocacy, they are distorting President Reagan’s record, exaggerating the likelihood that increased funding will lead to cures for diseases, misrepresenting current policy, and citing bogus public-opinion research.

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Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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