Politics & Policy

The C-Word

Ron Reagan seduces by changing the terms of the stem-cell debate.

Tuesday night at the Democratic Convention, Ron Reagan engaged in one of the most stunning bait-and-switch scams of recent political history: For weeks we have been told that Reagan would urge President Bush to increase spending for embryonic-stem-cell (ESCR) research using leftover (IVF) embryos and to expand the parameters of eligibility for federally funded research. But that is not what he did. Rather, under the guise of promoting ESCR, Reagan actually pushed for the explicit legalization of human cloning.

Here’s how Reagan described “embryonic-stem-cell research,” actually human cloning, a.k.a. somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), with my correcting comments to his inaccurate assertions in italicized brackets:

Now, imagine going to a doctor who instead of prescribing drugs, takes a few skin cells from your arm. The nucleus of one of your cells is placed into a donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed. A bit of chemical or electrical stimulation will encourage your cell’s nucleus to begin dividing [actually, create a new cloned human embryo], creating new cells [embryonic development] which will then be [destroyed and their cells] placed into a tissue culture. Those cells will generate embryonic stem cells containing only your DNA [and mitochondrial DNA from the egg], thereby [theoretically] eliminating the risk of tissue rejection.

The jig is finally up. For years, Big Biotech’s–and the official Democrat-party–line has been that President Bush’s embryonic-stem-cell funding policy has been too narrowly drawn. All we want access to, they repeatedly and self-righteously intoned, is IVF embryos in excess of need that are going to be discarded. But now, thanks to Ron Reagan’s speech, which never once mentioned leftover IVF embryos, we learn that what Big Biotech and the Kerry campaign are really after is for the federal government to fund human-cloning research. And they clearly think they can get it through the potent magic of redefining terms.

Not only did Reagan change the meaning of embryonic-stem-cell research, but he also left much essential information out of his little speech that viewers need to know if they are to come to a reasoned opinion about the cloning controversy. He claimed, for example, that only the unreasonable “theology of the few” stands in the way of “the many” receiving the miracle medical cures that Reagan’s hyped speech all but promised would be here in “ten years or so.” But religion isn’t the primary reason why so many people around the world oppose human cloning. Indeed, scores of Democrats in the House of Representatives, some of them decidedly secular, have voted twice for the very legal ban against all human somatic-cell nuclear-transfer cloning that Reagan railed against President Bush for supporting. Moreover, a growing number of countries have banned human cloning, and the list is hardly a roll call of Taliban theocracies: It includes France, Canada, Australia, Norway, and Germany.

Reagan also forgot to mention that the diseases he claimed would benefit from human cloning, renamed embryonic-stem-cell research, are already advancing toward effective treatments with adult stem cells or other adult tissues. People with Parkinson’s disease have already received tremendous benefit in early human trials. The same is true of heart disease. In Lisbon, Portugal, Dr. Carlos Lima, using patients’ own olfactory tissues, has helped quadriplegics regain their feet using braces.

“I know a [13-year-old] child,” Reagan said, pulling at the heartstrings of his audience, who “has juvenile diabetes…Every day she fights to have a future. What excuse will we offer this young woman should we fail her now” by not pursuing cloning research? Well, we might not have to tell her anything, because by the time scientists learn how to conduct human cloning and extract stem-cell lines from them for use in treatments, adult stem cells and related treatments might already be effectively treating children like Reagan’s young friend. For example, mice with late-stage juvenile diabetes have been completely cured using human spleen cells. Moreover, people with juvenile diabetes are already being effectively treated with cadaver pancreatic islet transplants, which often is sufficient to liberate the patients from insulin altogether.

Reagan closed his speech with some very powerful and moving words: “In a few months, we will face a choice. Yes, between two candidates and two parties, but more than that. We have a chance to make a giant stride forward for the good of all humanity. We can choose between the future and the past, between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology. This is our moment, and we must not falter.”

Unfortunately for Reagan, it turns out that he is the ideologue who has jettisoned reason and fact in order to embrace a faith in cloning miracles.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the author of Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America. His next book will be Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World.


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