Political grandstanding

  • March 12, 2009
{mosimage}U.S. President Barack Obama surrounded himself with political friends, the sick, the handicapped, churchmen and scientists on March 9 to trumpet his intention to separate politics from science. To enthusiastic applause he announced an executive order that will rescind a ban on government funding for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).

What utter hypocrisy.

Obama’s announcement was all about politics.  It was theatre, a photo op dressed up as a sound bite intended to play to the confusion of the masses on the issue of ESCR. He invoked the memory of Superman in the person of the late actor Christopher Reeves, of all things, in helping justify a unilateral decision to give ESCR scientists access to a multi-billion-dollar biomedical research fund.

What political grandstanding.

The president claimed he was rejecting a “false choice” between sound science and moral values, when, in fact, the choice between science and morality has never been more clear. Recent advances in adult stem cell research are quickly making ESCR a redundant methodology. Scientists can now create stem cells from just about any type of human cell. The science is nascent and needs to be nurtured but there seems little doubt that, soon, human embryos will be unnecessary for stem cell research.

Using stem cells that have been derived from adult cells to help cure many types of illness, disease and injury holds significant medical advantages over embryonic methods. Adult-based stem cells are more stable and far less prone to rejection, alleviating the need for anti-rejection drugs. Equally significant, using adult stem cells (that can be created from cells in the skin, blood or various organs) is moral and ethical, and in keeping with church doctrine.

There is a widespread misconception in the secular world that the Catholic Church is anti-science and particularly opposed to biotechnology. The fallacy persists despite the Vatican’s unequivocal support of broad scientific efforts to cure disease and alleviate human suffering, including encouragement of biotechnology. The only caveat is that science must have a moral and ethical foundation that respects the dignity of human life.

The church has long argued that research based on human embryos is an assault to that dignity. But  proponents of embryonic research methods have rationalized their position by trotting out the ends-justify-the-means argument. If the end result is the alleviation of human suffering, they claim, then using human embryos is a justifiable means, and trumps moral and ethical concerns.

Obama sums up the Vatican position as a “false choice” between sound science and moral values. But in light of scientific advances, there is nothing false about the choice. Society will soon be able to reap the full benefits of stem cell medicine without the need for embryonic stem cell research. There is now a clear path that can be followed, a path that is moral and ethical. But Obama has chosen the other road, the political road, not to be confused with the high road.

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