Tuesday, July 25, 2006
The Slippery Slope of Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Most of us are familiar with the slippery slope metaphor. The image of a person deciding it’s safe to take only one small step down a slippery slope and then finding there is inadequate traction to travel back up the slope is used by parents and teachers alike to make the point that a short-sighted decision taken today could lead to a series of undesirable choices and consequences in the future.
Unfortunately for the pro-life movement, sixteen pro-life senators were apparently absent from class when this lesson was taught. By voting in favor of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research these sixteen senators took a step off a very steep and slippery slope that could be next to impossible to retake.
How does a pro-life senator conclude that no human embryo should be destroyed while in a mother’s womb, but it’s perfectly OK to destroy human embryos created in a test tube? The rationale was best summarized by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah who strongly supports the legislation:
"I do not question that an embryo is a living cell. But I do not believe that a frozen embryo in a fertility clinic freezer constitutes human life."
To say that an embryo in a woman’s womb is human life and a human embryo in a freezer is not might seem like a rationale to Sen. Hatch and his colleagues, but it sounds more like a rationalization to me. Either way, it’s a very risky step on the wrong side of the pro-life slope.
First, it undermines the black and white clarity that is the great strength of the anti-abortion argument: Abortion is wrong because it destroys an embryo that is human life. Sen. Hatch and his colleagues have now reversed field and are in agreement with the pro-abortion argument that embryos are not initially human life. The only difference between the Hatch camp and the pro-abortion camp is the point in time when a human embryo should be considered “life enough” to be protected. If an embryo in a test tube is not protected, why then is a one week old embryo in the womb protected? What’s the difference? Not much. Don’t underestimate the significance of this shift in the debate. It substantially weakens the anti-abortion argument.
Second, the Hatch legislation limits testing to only those embryos that were prepared for in vitro fertilization and are now scheduled for disposal. But consider what is sure to happen if embryonic stem cell research leads to effective cures for otherwise incurable diseases. Surely, that is the goal. But our sixteen pro-life senators should be careful of what they wish for. Their wish might come true. And then they have a real problem.
Because it’s certain that the throw-away embryos from in vitro fertilization will not be sufficient in number to cure everyone who needs curing. What then? It should be obvious that the same sixteen senators will not be able to resist legislation that will allow the test tube creation of human embryos for the sole purpose of harvesting stem cells to treat patients. It’s silly to think they are committing to only research today without the surety that if cures are found they will be provided to everyone in need.
I truly sympathize with those who hope that embryonic stem cells will provide a cure for a crippling or life-shortening disease. And I understand how sixteen compassionate pro-life senators decided to support this legislation. But in my opinion compassion blinds both groups to the long term consequences of this decision.
I’m grateful that President Bush vetoed the legislation. It was both a courageous example of standing up for principle and yet another reminder that Mr. Bush’s intellectual capabilities are greatly underrated. Thanks Mr. President for having the wisdom to look beyond the first step of a journey down the wrong side of the slope and the courage to say no.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Is Mainstream Media Guilty of Bias or Incompetence?
Critics of mainstream media have lost their favorite poster boy. The king of liberal bias has left the building. Sadly, we won’t have Dan Rather to kick around anymore.
So what’s a mainstream media critic to do? Well, there’s no need for any of us to join Rather in the unemployment line. The poster boys and girls of media bias are really only a very small part of the story. I think we should be more concerned with the vast army of journalists who feed the teleprompters read by TV newsreaders like Rather and fill the pages of liberal newspapers like the New York Times. Media bias is not a problem confined to a few well known personalities. It’s an institutional problem that taints journalism in general and dominates the newsrooms of ABC, CBS, NBC and a significant number of influential newspapers.
Personally, I struggle with whether biased reporting is the result of intentional bias—twisting the facts to tell the story the journalist wants to tell—or incompetence.
Consider this example. Just before the start of the Senate confirmation hearings for pro-life Supreme Court appointee Samuel Alito, NBC News excitedly reported that Alito was out of step with a clear majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to an abortion. The conclusion was based on an NBC News poll that asked the following question:
“The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?”
Anyone who has done their homework realizes that Roe v. Wade legalized abortion without restriction in the first six months of pregnancy and provided a loophole that makes it almost impossible to restrict abortion even in the last three months of pregnancy.
So why would NBC News falsely imply that Roe v. Wade legalized abortion only in the first three months of pregnancy? Could it be that NBC News wanted to make Roe v. Wade sound more benign than it really is in order to elicit the desired answer? Or were NBC journalists incapable of understanding the implications of Roe v. Wade? Was it bias or incompetence?
A more subtle recent example from ABC News further illustrates my dilemma. This recently appeared on the ABC News website:
“Has your life been directly affected by global warming? We want to hear and see your stories. Have you noticed changes in your own backyard or hometown?”
It’s clear from the request that ABC News believes global warming is a proven phenomenon. You might take issue with that. I don’t. I believe there is evidence enough to conclude that Earth’s average temperature has risen in the past century. I further believe that our lifestyle is likely responsible for a portion of that increase. So I don’t find bias per se in the request.
What bothers me is ABC’s method of fact gathering. The case for global warming should be made by qualified scientists employing scientific methods to prove the hypothesis. Asking everyone to look in their own backyards for evidence of global warming is the equivalent of asking citizens who are untrained in the methods of science to observe the relative positions of the sun, moon and stars from our backyard observatories in order to prove that the earth is the center of the universe. It’s enough to cause Copernicus to roll over so rapidly in his grave that he might spontaneously combust.
So is mainstream media guilty of bias or incompetence? Unfortunately, both. And at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter whether inaccurate reporting is the result of intentional bias or incompetence. One way or the other, the American public is too often poorly served by mainstream media.