The New “Moderate” Pro–Lifers

Jameson Taylor
Permission Granted

Perhaps the most disturbing upshot of the embryonic stem cell (ESC) debate has been the shameless co–option of pro–life language by a number of so–called pro–life politicians. Shelbie Oppenheimer, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), in her testimony before Congress put the spin this way: “Mr. President you are presented with a choice…. You have the choice to be pro–life for an un–implanted frozen embryo that will be discarded or pro–life for me…. I am asking you to choose me.”

The ethical dilemma Ms. Oppenheimer is helping to propagate is a classic case of false opposition. Not a few of President Bush's so–called pro–life congressional allies encouraged this myth that ESC research pits the lives of the pre–born against the lives of other human beings. Two hundred and two members of Congress, including 40 Republicans, petitioned the president to support ESC research. Likewise, 61 senators, among them 13 Republicans, asked the president to authorize such funding. Reputed pro–life Republican Senators, Orrin Hatch (Utah), Strom Thurmond (S.C.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Bill Frist (Tenn.) urged Bush to choose the “most pro–life position” of funding ESC research. Orrin Hatch, who along with pro–abortion Republican Arlen Specter (Penn.) is leading the fight among Republicans to fund ESC research, personally wrote President Bush, advising that “proceeding with this research is in the best interests of the American public and is consistent with our shared pro–life, pro–family values.” Further, asked Hatch, “Why shouldn't embryos slated for destruction be used for the benefit of mankind?” Hatch, of course, failed to mention that his 2000 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, received $395,374 in donations from the pharmaceutical and health care industries — the very people most likely to profit from the federal funding of ESC research.

More to the point, Hatch's claim that ESC research is consistent with “pro–life values” is utterly false. Hatch's argument is that because ESC research might possibly save someone's life in the distant future, the killing of human embryos now is justifiable. The ends excuse the means and “mankind” will be better off if we “donate” these embryos to scientific research. By such logic, bio-Nazi Princeton professor Peter Singer is “pro–life” because he advocates the killing of newborns and persons with disabilities in order to improve the lives of the rest of us obligated to care for these dependents. If Hatch and his allies were truly pro–life, not only would they put an end to ESC research altogether, they would be seriously asking whether we as a nation should permit medical procedures, such as in vitro fertilization, that encourage the eventual destruction of human embryos.

Finally, regardless of what 61 senators and 202 members of Congress might be saying now, just eight months ago, in December 2000, Congress again extended the Dickey–Wicker Amendment prohibiting federal funding for any “research in which a human embryo [is] destroyed… or subjected to risk of injury or death.” The amendment has been in force since 1996, but was in practice annulled by a 1999 Clinton administration decision that funneled taxpayer money to scientists conducting research on human embryos so long as these scientists did not directly destroy the embryos themselves. On 8 March 2001, a coalition of pro–life advocates, led by Nightlight Christian Adoptions, sued the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health in an attempt to force the NIH to comply with the Dickey–Wicker Amendment. The Nightlight suit reminds us all that, in spite of President Bush's 9 August 2001 decision to fund limited ESC research, current federal law technically prohibits federal funding for such projects.

Congressional advocates of ESC research are thus preparing for the next battle in the ongoing war between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death. Rabid pro–abortionists, such as Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Tom Harkin (D–Iowa) have already announced plans to hold separate hearings in September 2001 to examine the “adequacy” of President Bush's proposal. Pro–life advocates who oppose ESC research, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R–Texas) and J.C. Watts (R–Okla.) for example, seem unwilling to fight the president on this issue. Meanwhile, Republicans like Arlen Specter, Strom Thurmond and Gordon Smith, backed by their allies in the Democratic Party, are moving forward with the “Stem Cell Research Act of 2001,” introduced on 5 April 2001, which would go far beyond President Bush's qualified approval of ESC research by appropriating federal funds to researchers who want to destroy embryos donated from in vitro clinics. President Bush has vowed to veto “any piece of legislation that undermines” his decision concerning ESC research. Republican pro–life moderates, however, have helped shift the debate from one that should have concerned the legality of ESC research altogether to a discussion of least worst alternatives regarding which human embryos — those already dead or those still alive — federally–funded researchers can now experiment upon.