Good News Is No News

Wesley Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, recently spoke at an "educational symposium" to support a human cloning ban in Kentucky. At the symposium, Smith and his fellow scholars discussed the ethical and scientific problems with embryonic stem cell research, which creates cloned humans for the purpose of harvesting cells. But they also spent nearly forty-five minutes talking about "exciting" developments in the "morally non-controversial" field of adult stem cell research. And they had plenty to talk about. Scientists have experimented using human umbilical cord blood stem cells in mice and creating human blood vessels that might restore eyesight to patients with diabetes-related blindness. Some diabetes patients have been treated with pancreatic tissue from cadavers, and 80 percent have achieved insulin independence. Muscle tissue has been regenerated in mice with muscular dystrophy. Even spinal cords have been regenerated using gene therapy. All of this happened with adult stem cells. So there was plenty of good news to report. But the Louisville Courier-Journal's article on the symposium downplayed this, giving very little space to what adult stem cell research has accomplished. On the other hand, cloning advocates' dubious claims about what they think they might someday be able to do were reported in detail. Smith adds, "In a curious journalistic approach, cloning supporters from the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville were quoted extensively rebutting our wholly unreported remarks . . . " Wesley Smith generously refuses to speculate on the reasons, but I'll speculate. First of all, much of the drive to protect human embryos comes from a pro-life coalition. If there is any disfavored class in American society, it's pro-lifers. Second, the biotech industry and scientists generally are vehemently opposed to any restrictions on research -- forget about moral objections. They believe that there should never be limits on what they can examine. Anybody who proposes any kind of limitations is seen as trying to take away scientists' freedom. This attitude plays right into the hands of the mainstream press, because it fits their cherished stereotypes about the courageous benefactors of mankind fighting for their independence from narrow-minded, anti-research religious cranks. Stereotypes trump the evidence. The kind of thing also gives the press an opportunity to beat up on President Bush, who has taken the reasoned position of not funding any new embryonic stem cell research lines. So people like Wesley Smith, who are advocating a course that would benefit untold numbers of patients, have been accused of being inhumane toward suffering people. And bad news about embryonic stem cells gets censored -- such as the fact that they are causing tumors in animal studies. So when you read the papers and see scientists and stars testifying in Congress about cloning and embryonic stem cell research, beware. Don't just listen to the rhetoric -- look at the evidence. Then help educate your neighbors. In this case, as in so many others, the best scientific answer is also the right one morally. And if the press won't say it, we must. For further reading and information: In a phone call to March for Life attendees in Washington, D.C., yesterday, President Bush noted that his administration is "opposed to the destruction of embryos for stem cell research" and went on to say that "above all, we must continue with civility and respect to remind our fellow citizens that all life is sacred and worthy of protection." Visit the website of the President's Council on Bioethics. Wesley J. Smith, "Stem Cell News That Isn't Fit for Print," Daily Standard, 3 December 2003. Wesley J. Smith, "Spinning Stem Cells," National Review Online, 23 April 2002. Wesley J. Smith, Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America (Encounter, 2002). William Allen, "Cloning opponents to make major push to ban research," Louisville Courier-Journal, 23 November 2003. (Note the correction at the top of the page; apparently someone managed to get the message through to the editors.) Ted Olsen, "Weblog: Renewed Hope for Adult Stem Cell Research," Christianity Today Online, 30 December 2003. Steven Ertelt, "Associated Press Corrects Stem Cell Story with Erroneous Info,", 7 January 2004. Rich Tucker, "What are we missing?", 4 March 2002. Gina Dalfonzo, "Copying from the Same Script," BreakPoint Online, 10 November 2003. Learn more about bioethics issues at the Council for Biotechnology Policy website. Sign up for its free monthly "Biotech Policy Update." Also visit the websites of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and Americans to Ban Cloning for more biotech information. BreakPoint Commentary No. 031007, "Antics with Semantics: Why 'Pro-Life' Means Pro-Life." A great resource for pastors, church leaders, and everyone concerned with pro-life issues, the BreakPoint Culture of Life Packet includes the Family Research Council booklet, "Building a Culture of Life: A Call to Respect Human Dignity in American Life," and a "BreakPoint This Week" CD interview with William Saunders of Family Research Council in which he discusses what citizens can do to make a difference for life. The CD also includes a speech by Dr. Robert George, "Bioethics and the Clash of Orthodoxies."


Chuck Colson


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