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Medical Research and Human Dignity

Defending a Good Law



A federal judge, I’m happy to say, halted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. But folks, that’s just round 1.

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Chuck  Colson

Ever since 1996, the law has been clear: The federal government may not pay for research in which existing human embryos are “destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”

That is, the federal government may not fund embryonic stem cell (or ESC) research beyond existing lines of stem cells.

So while billions of dollars of private and state money flow in to embryo-destructive research, federal tax dollars have not supported this morally compromised science. That is, until recently.

The Obama Administration decided that the law could be read in a way that separates research on embryonic stem cells from the destruction of embryos required in order to obtain those cells.  A little sleight of hand is all that’s needed to circumvent the law and its clear intent of protecting embryonic humans.

Last week, judge Royce Lamberth called that reasoning unreasonable. “To conduct ESC research,” he wrote, “ESCs must be derived from an embryo. The process of deriving ESCs from an embryo results in the destruction of the embryo. Thus, ESC research necessarily depends upon the destruction of a human embryo.”

Exactly! Federal funding, he held, violates the law.

Most pro-lifers were elated. But this was just round one. The anti-life machine is kicking in to high gear. They’ll appeal, Congress may seek to re-write the law, and the Obama administration has every intention of fulfilling its campaign promises on embryonic stem-cell research, one way or the other.

Naturally, the media’s response was immediate and nasty. William Saletan of Slate called Judge Lamberth “crazy” and “brain-dead.” After all, argued the Washington Post, Lamberth disrupted “one of the most promising lines of research in recent memory.”

Promising? Really? Hardly. Not a single cure using embryonic stem cells is even on the horizon. We know using adult stem cells works. But with embryonic stem cells, all we have is what author Emily Yoffe calls “infomercial-level hype.”

Also writing in Slate, Yoffe comments that when it comes to stem cells and other high-tech biology, scientists invariably oversell the medical benefits of their research. “Without money,” she writes, “there’s no science. Researchers must constantly convince administrators who control tax dollars, investors, and individual donors that the work they are doing will make a difference.”

Beyond that, she notes, scientists, donors, and patients all want to believe in miracle cures, and so those who raise moral or legal objections become the enemy—cruel ideologues who would just as soon see people suffer and die.

But since precious resources are being lavished on research that isn’t curing a single disease, reasonable people might wonder which side is truly concerned about helping people.

So let’s prepare ourselves and be ready refute the spurious arguments being advanced for a medical utopia. Joni Eareckson Tada has given us a brilliant new book, Life in the Balance, which spells this out. And you can get it in our book store. Folks, let’s be real: designer babies, sperm banks, embryo-destructive research, the threats are coming at us from all sides. We’ve got to be prepared to defend the truth.

Further Reading and Information

The Medical Revolution: Where are the Cures?
Emily Yoffe | Slate | August 24, 2010

Life in the Balance: Biblical Answers for Issues of Our Day
Joni Ereckson Tada | The Colson Center Bookstore

Dickey Waiver: A Crazy Judge Throws Out Obama's Stem-Cell Policy--And Bush's.
William Saletan | Slate | August 25, 2010

Dr. James L. Sherley v. Kathleen Sebelius
United States Court for the District of Columbia | Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge, August 23, 2010