Politics & Policy

It’s the Spending

Behind the stem-cell hype.

Were you to assume that venerable American newspapers and senior members of Congress always spoke clearly and accurately about the issue of embryonic-stem-cell research, you would have to conclude that this research is banned in the United States.

#ad#The Los Angeles Times has said so. So did Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the reputedly straight-talking former Democratic vice-presidential nominee.

Editors at the Times got so worked up about what they called “the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research” that in January they wrote an editorial demanding that Congress overturn it. Responding to news about the promise of stem cells from amniotic fluid, a non-controversial source of stem cells, the Times wrote: “To religiously conservative politicians, they are an excuse to disregard embryonic stem cell research altogether. And to the House of Representatives, they provide a useful reminder of the importance of overturning the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research.”

Last summer, Lieberman got worked up, too, hectoring President Bush to join him in reversing the ban. “In a statement made during consideration of stem cell legislation,” said a release put out by the senator’s office, “Lieberman called on the Bush Administration to follow the Senate’s lead by supporting legislation to lift the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research.”

Nor were the Times and Lieberman alone in citing this alleged “federal ban on embryonic stem cell research.”

When the House of Representatives approved the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act in January, the headline in the Wilkes Barre Times Leader reported: “House votes to lift Bush ban on embryonic stem cell research.”

Truth be told, despite the misleading language used by the Los Angeles Times, Joe Lieberman, and the Wilkes Barre Times Leader, there has never been a federal ban on embryonic stem cell research. President Bush has merely declined to use tax dollars to subsidize research that kills human embryos. Indeed, if you read more deeply and carefully into the Times editorial, Lieberman’s press release, or the Times Leader story, you would notice that they were actually talking about President Bush’s refusal to “fund” this research with taxpayer dollars, not a federal prohibition on the research itself. Perhaps these leaders in Congress and journalism are pleased with the success of their straw-man argument. But it is not an honest way to persuade.

The truth is, the managers of all major U.S. pharmaceutical companies could decide tomorrow to dedicate 100 percent of their research budgets to embryonic-stem-cell research and no laws — except the laws of the free market — would stand in their way.

The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which the House approved in January, which the Senate is considering this week, and which President Bush has vowed to veto just like he vetoed a similar bill last year, is not about whether to permit or prohibit killing human embryos for their stem cells. It would neither prohibit nor compel any act by privately funded medical researchers.

But if enacted over the president’s veto, it would compel all U.S. taxpayers. Whether they liked it or not, they would be forced to subsidize researchers who kill human embryos.

Perhaps America ought to debate the wisdom of banning research that requires snuffing out a human life in its earliest stages of development. But despite the sloppy rhetoric used by the Los Angeles Times, Joe Lieberman, and others, no such ban exists and the wisdom of one is not the question before Congress now.

Simply put, the question is this: Should government force people who think killing human embryos is wrong to pay for research that kills human embryos? The answer is simple, too: If the biotech industry thinks it can make progress through research that kills human embryos, let them pay for it themselves.

–Cathy Ruse is senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council.

Cathy Ruse — Michael Filozof is an adjunct professor of political science at the State University of New York at Brockport.

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