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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Soft boiled arguments

Muddying the Stem Cell Argument
by Keith Schmitz

Frank Rich hit it right on the head last weekend in the New York Times when he said that Bill Frist no doubt changed his position against stem cell research when he saw the polling and found the support to be "eye-popping."

You can bet the GOP realizes that Jim Doyle has a nice big horse to ride back to the Governor's Mansion with the stem cell issue. Even with the disegagement of the electorate, many people recognize the potential that lies in embryonic stem cell research. Heck, many Republican business people also recognize the potential that this technology offers in furthering Wisconsin as the "third coast" in bio-med research; a potential that not only benefits the labs and bio-pharms directly involved but a whole host of suport businesses as well.

So get set for a flurry of conservative columnists sweating away to claim things aren't what they are and diversionary tactics such as labeling Doyle's latest campaign ad as misleading to fit in with their "the governor is dis-honest" frame. The Journal has pitched in on this one big time.

Case in point is Rick Esenberg's op-ed in this morning's Journal.

I don't have time to research or refute all the howlers, but his essay is a bit conflicted -- a hallmark of much of his work.

Let's take one. He assails the popularly held asertion that there are 400,000 surplus embryos
from in vitro fertilzation clinics. Us supporters of stem cell research maintain that if the anti-abortion crowd is so concerned about these "people" being destroyed in the quest for cures, then flushing them away eventually is not exactly death with dignity.

Esenberg claims that a Rand study says there are 11,000 embryos. Just a quick hit here. That's still a goodly share of "people," just over the size of my home town Port Washington. You still have to flush even that small number away if you arn't going to apply them to science.

Then Rick goes on to bring help from the left by "quoting" a Mother Jones piece by Liza Mundy that says, despite what stem cell supporters say, the parents do not want to give the embryos they helped create for stem cell research.

The way Rick puts it from the article:

It seems that, in overwhelming numbers, they cannot bring themselves to destroy the embryos or to turn them over for research because, whether they be "lives" or "potential lives," creating them for destruction seems wrong.

Well, we do have the internets (damn that Al Gore!) and you can read the article for yourself (no link provided in the Journal).

First off, Mundy accepts the existence of the large number of frozen embryos, from of all places a "rand consulting group" study. She puts the number in fact at 500,000.

She then goes on the talk about those parents. Yes, one of their feelings is to preserve their embryonic progeny. But this of course is no conservativeworld and it turns out that these parents are much more conflicted than what Esenberg claims.

According to the study led by Dr. Robert Nachtigal:

Couples, (the research) found, were confused yet deeply affected by the responsibility of deciding what to do with their embryos. They wanted to do the right thing. All of the 58 couples in his study had children as a result of treatment, so they knew, well, what even three-day-old embryos can and do grow into. (Nachtigall is currently studying a much larger sample of couples, where both egg and sperm come from the parents. It should answer the question of whether couples who use donor eggs are in any way distinct in their thinking about embryos.) “Some saw them as biological material, but most recognized the potential for life,” Nachtigall told colleagues at the asrm meeting. “For many couples, it seems there is no good decision; yet they still take it seriously morally.”

And that is not to say the previous study that you will find in the article is invalid, which found:

...many patients begin in vertro fertilization with some notion about how they will dispose of surplus embryos. (The choices come down to five: use them; donate them for research; donate them to another infertile person; freeze them indefinitely; or have them thawed, that is, quietly disposed of.)

Brace yourself, you will see more of these op-eds as we approach the election with lots of poorly researched assertions. My only hope is that the Journal editorial page does a better job of fact checking.

The GOP knows full well that the stem cell issue will make a difference in this election like it did earlier this year in the New Jersey special election for Governor, and as it will across this country. In the process, they will be willing to sacrifice this very important research for their usual short term gain. Don't let them do it.

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