The C-Word

THE C-WORD….Ramesh Ponnuru, responding to a sensible letter from a reader, gives the stem cell game away. After complaining that Michael J. Fox’s ad for Claire McCaskill didn’t explain the details of stem cell research in enough detail, he says this:

People don’t know much about these issues, and the pro-cloning side has revised the lexicon repeatedly over the last four years to keep people off balance. Everyone doesn’t know that Fox is talking about human cloning.

The extremist pro-life forces are bound and determined that no discussion of stem cell research should be allowed unless it includes the word “cloning.” Why? Because it’s scary. It brings to mind The Boys From Brazil and warehouses stacked with human bodies ready to have their organs harvested.

Needless to say, supporters of stem cell research tend to avoid the word for the same reason. And they should. Therapeutic cloning, in which microscopic groups of cells are duplicated in order to provide embryonic stem cells for research, isn’t scary at all. Unless you take the extreme position that a blastocyst is a human person, there’s simply no reason to connect this kind of research to reproductive cloning (i.e., the scary kind).

But pro-life extremists want to scare people. So they insist that any discussion that doesn’t include the C-word is dishonest. That’s horsepucky.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, who are these people who Ponnuru says are opposed to adult stem cell research? This is a genuine question. I’ve never heard of anyone taking this position.

UPDATE: A reader who’s familiar with the stem cell debate writes to explain the origin of the claim that some people oppose adult stem cell research:

It comes from the opposition of some Democrats to the Santorum-Specter bill, introduced at the same time as the embryonic stem cell bill that Bush vetoed earlier this year. Santorum-Specter would have required the NIH to pursue alternative methods of making stem cells without destroying embryos. Ponnuru thinks that because some Democrats opposed Santorum-Specter (and ultimately killed it in the House), that means they’re opposed to adult stem cell research. Kathryn Jean Lopez has called it the “embryos-or-nothing” school.

Total bunk. NIH is already free to fund alternative methods of making stem cells. In FY 2005, NIH received $199 million in funding for research on human non-embryonic stem cells, vs. $40 million for work on human embryonic stem cells. There’s absolutely no statutory restriction on adult stem cell work, and no one has proposed such a thing. Santorum-Specter was a superfluous earmark, but a convenient way for Republicans opposed to embryonic stem cell research to say they voted for stem cell research.

It’s fair for Ponnuru & Lopez to argue that alternative methods are morally preferable to research involving embryos. But it’s bizarre and cynical for them to pretend that anyone actively opposes research on adult stem cells. No one does.

More details here.