WASHINGTON (BP)–Ron Reagan’s call at the Democratic National Convention for Americans to vote for embryonic stem cell research in November was deceptive and dangerous, pro-life ethicists said.
Reagan, the son of the recently deceased 40th president of the United States, mentioned neither Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry nor President Bush, the Republican candidate, in his speech in Boston. But his presence in prime time July 27, as well as his endorsement of embryonic research, spoke volumes to the Democratic delegates and a national television audience. For nearly three years, Bush has had a policy in place banning federal funding of destructive research using stem cells from embryos, while Kerry has endorsed government support of such experimentation.
“Whatever else you do come Nov. 2nd, I urge you, please, cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research,” Reagan said at the close of his speech.
Before he closed, Reagan endorsed not only embryonic research but human cloning without using the word “cloning,” various pro-life ethicists pointed out. He also denied that fetuses were created or destroyed in the process. He described opponents of funding embryonic stem cell research as ignorant and lacking in compassion.
“[T]here are those who would stand in the way of this remarkable future, who would deny the federal funding so crucial to basic research,” Reagan said. “They argue that interfering with the development of even the earliest-stage embryo, even one that will never be implanted in a womb and will never develop into an actual fetus, is tantamount to murder. A few of these folks, needless to say, are just grinding a political axe, and they should be ashamed of themselves. But many are well-meaning and sincere. Their belief is just that, an article of faith, and they are entitled to it.
“But it does not follow that the theology of a few should be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many. And how can we affirm life if we abandon those whose own lives are so desperately at risk?”
Americans will face a choice between more than two candidates and two parties, Reagan said. “We have a chance to take a giant stride forward for the good of all humanity,” he said. “We can choose between the future and the past, between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology.”
Reagan’s reasoning is not new, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said.
“We’ve heard these arguments about unfettering medical research from any moral and ethical guidelines in the past, when moral qualms have been labeled as ignorance,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “What such arguments produced were the technologically advanced and morally corrupt laboratories of the Third Reich.
“When people start making arguments about unfettering technicians in white coats from any moral and religious concerns, the little hairs on the back of our neck ought to stand up, because that’s a scientific ideology which leads to barbarism against human beings. I, for one, do not want to live in a society in which older and bigger human beings think they have the right to kill the tiniest human beings to harvest their tissue merely to improve their own health or longevity. What Ron Reagan is calling ignorance is called civilization.”
The focus of Reagan’s efforts in the wake of the June death of his father, a staunch pro-lifer, is Bush’s 2001 order prohibiting federal grants for destructive stem cell research. The procurement of stem cells, the body’s master cells that develop into other cells and tissues, brings about the death of an embryo only days old. The president’s policy does not prohibit privately funded embryonic stem cell research. Nor does it ban federal funding of adult stem cell research, which has provided treatment to human beings with more than 40 maladies.
Reagan’s speech was “breathtakingly irresponsible,” said Robert George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University.
Reagan “virtually promised Parkinson’s sufferers that embryonic stem cells will provide a cure for them in ten years or so,” George said in a commentary for National Review Online. “But Ron Reagan has no idea — no one does — whether this is the future of medicine. He is engaged in a campaign of outrageous hype to persuade suffering people that a mere change of administrations in Washington will lead to cures” for many diseases.
The low point of Reagan’s speech, however, was his suppression of the difference “between human embryonic stem cells and the human embryos that are deliberately killed in the process of stem cell harvesting,” said George, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. “After promising to ‘do justice to the science,’ Ron Reagan described the process of obtaining embryonic stem cells in a way that left out the fact that the cloning process he described creates a human embryo which is killed in order to harvest its stem cells.
“Those of us who oppose embryonic stem cell harvesting object to the practice because it necessarily involves the killing of human embryos,” George said. “And human embryos are nothing other than human beings in the embryonic stage of their natural development. Ron Reagan refuses to face up to this fact. He suggests that it is a matter of ‘theological belief,’ when the truth is that it is a plain matter of scientific fact that can be verified by consulting any textbook in human embryology.”
It turns out Reagan, not the foes of embryonic stem cell research, is the ideologue, said Wesley Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.
He “is the ideologue who has jettisoned reason and fact in order to embrace a faith in cloning miracles,” Smith wrote, also for National Review Online.
Reagan “forgot to mention that the diseases he claimed would benefit from human cloning, renamed embryonic stem cell research, are already advancing toward effective treatments with adult stem cells or other adult tissues,” Smith said, citing benefits already received by people with Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and spinal cord injuries.
Ben Mitchell, an ERLC bioethics consultant, said Reagan not only concealed his support for human cloning and greatly inflated the reality of stem cell research, but he described egg donation in a “cavalier way.” Egg donation can be painful and dangerous for women, Mitchell said.
“Everyone wants to see treatments and cures for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and the other diseases that contribute to human suffering,” said Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. “But the means to achieve the goal must be ethically justifiable. Human embryonic stem cell research simply cannot meet that requirement. Human beings should not be cloned. Human embryos should not be cannibalized for their cellular parts. And women and their ovaries should not be treated as egg-laying factories for experimental science.”
Reagan’s mother, Nancy, and sister, Patti Davis, are proponents of embryonic stem cell research, but Michael Reagan, another son of the late president, has spoken against such experimentation. Michael Reagan also has said his father would have opposed federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. His father died June 5 after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s.
Ron Reagan has made little effort to hide his opposition to Bush and his policies. His reference to “true compassion and mere ideology” in his Boston speech especially appeared to target the president. Bush has often spoken of a “compassionate conservatism” he would like to be manifested in his administration.