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Friday, October 22, 2004  

News: Newsweek clarifies stem cell debate

When I initially wrote about Christopher Reeve's death, several readers attempted to chastize me. They said I should not have mentioned his determined and able advocacy for embryonic stem cell research. It is disrespectful to bring it up, I was told. Describe the actor and leave the activist out. Reeve's family members would be upset if they read the blog entry. How dare I bring up politics at such a sensitive time? Shame on me.

Furthermore, I was said to be misstating the actions of the incumbent president, George W. Bush. I said he opposes research on stem cells derived from human embryos. His actions include banning further production of embryonic stem cells by executive order three years ago.

Of course those persons had a motivation other than respect for Christopher Reeve. They wanted to downplay his support for embryonic stem cell research. In fact, it would have pleased them if the issue were not discussed at all. The current edition of Newsweek has yanked the covers off the topic. Newsweek is the first mainstream publication to bring the controversy to the forefront. The cover features Christopher Reeve.

At the heart of the stem-cell furor is the most fundamental question: what is a human life and when does life begin? Even Roman Catholics like Frank Cocozzelli, who has muscular dystrophy and is founder of the Committee for the Advancement of Stem Cell Research, says embryos that would otherwise be discarded should be salvaged for life: "There's no dignity in watching people die unnecessarily." Mary Tyler Moore, a pro-life Republican and international chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, equates using leftover embryos for research to organ donation. Chris Chappell frames the dilemma in a simple way: "For me, an embryo is not a human embryo until it's placed in a woman's womb. That's when it has the potential to become life." This year Chappell will vote Democratic for the first time.

For religious hard-liners -- the base Bush dares not alienate -- it's a black-and-white issue. There is no justification for tampering with embryos. Ever. And now, with news that Harvard scientists want to pursue therapeutic cloning, the alarm bells -- and fears of "human embryo farms!" -- are sounding louder. Although scientists draw a line between therapeutic cloning for research and cloning of human beings, which they expressly oppose, that distinction is irrelevant to Richard Doerflinger, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "There are elements to this agenda that make it even more serious than abortion," says Doerflinger. "You have the prospect of creating lives just to destroy them." Bishops can't endorse candidates from the pulpit, but the Conference has produced a booklet, circulated to thousands of parishes, that outlines the church's position on embryonic research.

Kerry supports therapeutic cloning; Bush opposes it. If elected, Kerry would lift restrictions on federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research. White House aides say Bush has no plans to change his stand. . . .

The death of Reeve, the foremost celebrity advocate for embryonic stem cell research, has acted as a catalyst to bring this issue to the front page of political discourse. For millions of people, it will be one of those determining their vote two weeks from now.

The full text of the Newsweek article is well worth reading. Christopher Reeve would want you to.

Reasonably related

Republicans in the Senate seem to have retaliated against Reeve after he died. Legislation bearing his name that was about to pass has been stopped.

11:55 PM