After years of lies and deception, on Tuesday news broke from the world of science that there are indeed dramatic, significant, and exciting alternatives to embryo-destroying stem-cell research. Researchers — God bless them — were able to reprogram regular ol’ human skin cells into embryonic-stem-cell-like cells. The Brave New World debates are heading into a whole new world, one where there’s a whole lot more room for a practical life-affirming compromise.
While the full implications of the news are still unfolding, one thing should be crystal clear to any reasonable person willing to look at the facts: Those who oppose embryo-destructive research are not heartless; and Rush Limbaugh does not hate sick people.
Where does Rush Limbaugh fit into a story about hard science? Let me back up for a moment to the worst election-campaign moment in my lifetime: the day Christopher Reeve died. “Superman” died about a month before the 2004 presidential vote, and his death was, of course, waked in a media frenzy. That same day, at an event in Iowa, John Edwards, then the Democrats’ nominee for vice president, said: “If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”
The usual suspects were outraged. But he was not universally condemned as the shameless demagogue that he is — as a heartless political charlatan who was promising hope based on nothing at all but his desire to have an East Wing suite.
The real lionizing was being saved for the next Election Day — those infamous 2006 midterm elections, when stem cells would be the object of an emotionally charged circus, wearing many a sick celebrity’s face. In 2006, advocates of a Missouri ballot initiative were pushing a referendum that would create a constitutional right to human cloning, all the while claiming to be banning human cloning. You can ignore that last fact, though; most advocates for it did. Voting for the initiative, they said, would work miracles. Voting against it meant you hated sick people.
And so, by that logic and rhetoric, leading the hating-sick-people pack was Rush Limbaugh (at least in the minds of the drive-by world that has allowed itself to be a willing tool of the manipulative biotech industry and their willing pols).
The Missouri controversy hit big time when Rush Limbaugh dared to question what we were all hearing and watching. In response to the heart-wrenching Michael J. Fox ad, Limbaugh said on-air what experts were saying off the record: Was it possible, they asked, that Fox had stayed off his medication when he taped the commercial so that he could be sure that the cameras would get a worse-day view of life with Parkinson’s? Fox previously admitted that he had done that when he testified before Congress. Limbaugh made the point not to make light of Fox’s suffering. The point was to highlight that this debate was being waged in Spin City. And one commercial was hardly the end of it.
To make the point Rush made was not mean or heartless, just as George W. Bush and Mitt Romney are not heartless for their leadership in highlighting alternatives to embryo-destroying stem-cell research. It was an honesty check — a worthwhile and fair one considering the disingenuousness that is characteristic of this debate.
The stem-cell debate has been a Petri dish of deception. For one thing, where embryos will be created for embryonic-stem-cell research, reporters, politicians, activists rarely used the accurate term — cloning — to describe the Brave New World they were, sometimes with taxpayer money, seeking to create and expand. They needed taxpayer money because that’s not where the private money wanted to be — because it wasn’t a sure bet. Surer bets were — and increasingly are — alternatives to embryonic-stem-cell research. As Limbaugh put it last year on his radio show: “Not one disease has been impacted by embryonic-stem-cell research. Three pages of this, ladies and gentlemen. A total blank slate here, and these are all the diseases where adult stem cells have proven beneficial. You can see a blank slate versus the text: brain cancer, ovarian cancer, skin cancer, testicular cancer, tumors abdominal organs Lymphoma, lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. . . . That’s just some of the cancers adult stem cells are showing promise. Zip, zero, nada versus three pages of these things.”
That Missouri Fox work may have gone far to serve up a defeat for those seeking to protect life in Missouri that Election Day, but the vote on that deceptive initiative was closer than it ever would have been had it not been for some brave souls, most visibly liberal-elite public enemy #1, Limbaugh.
I recount all this not to condemn, but for just the opposite reason: We appear to be at an unprecedented moment of promise. Just last month, New Jersey voters were brave enough to reject a move to borrow money for their state’s cloning project. Ian Wilmut, father of Dolly the Sheep, has turned away from cloning. Now, this reprogramming news. We have alternatives to embryonic-stem-cell research. These alternatives, science tells us again and again now, are a place where hope lives.
And, yes, Rush told you so. But he won’t gloat if everyone promises to cooperate now. As he put it last year: “One of the things I said that distressed me about this whole ad campaign was the fact that curing disease has traditionally been a bipartisan effort in this country, curing cancer, breast cancer, heart disease, any number of things.”
Non-embyro-destructive-stem-cell research offers some real hope to the suffering, without doing life itself a grave crime.
This is a matter of life or death, not demagoguery. Instead of the usual rush to partisan politics, let’s look at this national conversation soberly and support lifesaving medical research that respects life.