Free Dartmouth
7/29/2005 12:50:00 PM | Justin

Frist OK's Stem Cell Research... A triumph for "see no evil" republicanism?

Today, Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist made a speech (transcript here) endorsing government funding for the stem cell research President Bush banned in 2001. This is a good sign in the clash between science and religious fundamentalism, because his endorsement will probably force to the floor the bill that allows the stem cell research that Bush has vowed to veto, isolating Bush in his increasingly unpopular stance on the issue.

In his speech, Frist says:

I am pro-life, I believe human life begins at conception... I also believe that embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported...Thus, with appropriate reservations, I will support the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.

He summarizes the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act as follows:

This bill would allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research for cells derived from human embryos that: 1. are created for the purpose of fertility treatments; 2. are no longer needed by those who received the treatments; 3. would otherwise be discarded and destroyed; 4. are donated for research with the written, informed consent of those who received the fertility treatments, but do not receive financial or other incentives for their donations.

His position appears to be that government funding should only be used to destroy human embryos if those embryos were going to be destroyed anyway. The point that tends to be glossed over is that the human embryo that is being destroyed for research is already past the stage of conception. So it's hard to see how any pro-lifer who believes that human life begins at conception (as Frist describes himself) could possibly support this research.

Frist's defense is that these embryos were already going to be destroyed anyway, but doesn't that just beg the question of whether it's ethical for them to be "destroyed anyway"? The process of in vitro fertilization has existed for years, but few have taken note of the fact that surplus fertilized eggs are routinely discarded, in effect, aborting what many pro-life people consider to be human beings. So if someone like Frist really wants to be true to his conception stage pro-life views, then not only should he oppose all stem cell research on the grounds that it murders "human beings", but he should also oppose the very process of in vitro fertilization, and any other process that produces fertilized eggs that "will be discarded".

Obviously, it would be that much more tiresome for everyone if we had Bill Frist types running around opposing the most basic procedures such as in vitro fertilization that are taken for granted to be morally sound. Still though, if conception stage pro-lifers are ever going to come to their senses and compromise their position a bit, they need to realize the magnitude of the stance their position requires them to take. So we shouldn't let them take the easy way out with phrases like "will be discarded", or, for that matter, Bush's policy of supporting research only on stem cell lines that were already created by what he considers to be illegal means. Both Bush and Frist are in effect taking "see no evil" positions, allowing government research to benefit from what they consider to be murder, but not allowing them to participate in it themselves.

They might as well just spare us the pretense, and allow scientists to do whatever they want, as long as they keep their hands over their eyes.

Update: Apparently, Michelle Cottle of TNR makes the same point about pro-life hypocrisy on in vitro fertilization, referenced on the centrist coalition blog here.

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