Politics & Policy

Ron’s Moment

Stem-cell delusions.

Ron Reagan junior’s speech tonight was not nearly as contemptible as I had expected it to be. He didn’t exploit his father’s death or his family’s suffering in the text of his remarks, although of course the mere fact of his speaking at the Democratic convention was exploitative enough. (He certainly was not picked for his excellence in delivering speeches.) The idea that his speech was not “political” or “partisan,” as he put it, is probably not an insult to our intelligence; it is probably his speechwriter’s insult to his.

Reagan’s basic argument was that it would be cruel to deny sick people treatments because some people have “theological” objections to funding embryonic-stem-cell research. Other people will think it is cruel to run a political campaign that exaggerates the potential for this line of research to generate cures. Reagan said he wanted to “try and paint as simple a picture as I can while still doing justice to the incredible science involved.” He failed to do that justice. The scenario he outlined–of medicine that would repair the brains of Parkinson’s sufferers, of “your own personal biological repair kit standing by at the hospital”–is generally considered unlikely. To say that it could bring “the greatest medical breakthrough in our or any lifetime” is to show that no real attempt was made at doing justice. Rep. Langevin’s introductory remarks, in which he suggested that taxpayer subsidies would make him walk again, and implicitly also help others in his situation, was also unrealistic–and, to that extent, it was cruel and contemptible.

Reagan attempted to engage the arguments of those who believe that the killing of human embryos should not be subsidized. He deserves some credit for this: Many people just skip past this question. “It is the hallmark of human intelligence that we are able to make distinctions,” he said. But it is a hallmark of human intelligence that we are able to make rationalizations, too. And Reagan’s distinctions don’t distinguish. Killing embryos is not a problem, he said, because those embryos have no fingers or toes. So much for quadriplegics. It’s not a problem because they feel no pain–like the comatose, or people given lethal injections. It’s not a problem because the future will approve. In which case, so much the worse for the future. (All of these arguments, by the way, contradict Reagan’s earlier insistence that the research involves only using the materials of our own bodies.)

One of Ron Reagan junior’s friends should tell him not to talk too much about “human intelligence.”

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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