By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
Those who rely on the secular media to learn about the current debate surrounding stem cell research will most likely not be well informed. Rather than reporting the facts, the majority of media stories are written in such a way to garner support for the use of embryonic stem cells and “non-reproductive” cloning and, in the process, make those opposed to such experimentation appear as ignorant extremists. Many “journalists” write in such a way as to imply that those who support embryonic stem cell research understand science and those who are opposed are “religious” non-thinkers.
This brand of journalism has been apparent in recent media stories about stem cell research in Illinois. On July 12, 2005 Governor Rod Blagojevich signed an executive order creating the taxpayer supported “Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute (IRMI) program . . . that will provide for the awarding of grants to medical research facilities for the development of finding treatments and cures from stem cell research.”
Media Reports vs. The Facts
Referencing Governor Blagojevich’s executive order, Gretchen Ruethling of The New York Times reports, “The state program, which Mr. Blagojevich said he expected to be running by the end of year, permits research on adult, cord blood and new embryonic stem cell lines, but prohibits research involving human cloning, tissue that was bought or sold for research, and embryos from abortions.”
Just how unbiased and truthful is Ruethling’s statement? First of all, the executive order does not “permit” such experimentation as there are no prohibitions against stem cell research of any kind (embryonic or non-embryonic). The only question is who will pay for it. The reader is also left with the impression that these three options are morally equivalent—which they are not. With patient consent, research and treatment with adult stem cells or cord blood are morally acceptable as no human being is harmed in their retrieval. Research utilizing “new” or existing embryonic stem cell lines, however, is morally unacceptable as very tiny human beings are destroyed in order to harvest his or her stem cells.
Ruethling then writes definitively that the Governor’s program “prohibits research involving human cloning.” While the executive order does say, “No funds authorized or made available under the IRMI program shall be used for research involving the reproductive [emphasis added] cloning of a human being,” there is no such prohibition against therapeutic cloning.
In fact, the IRMI program specifically provides for funding for “the product of somatic cell nuclear transfer”—that product is a human clone. It is only reproductive, not therapeutic cloning that will not be funded by IRMI at this time.
Both procedures result in a cloned human being. The difference is therapeutic cloning creates a human being for the purpose of killing them to harvest their stem cells. With reproductive cloning, the cloned human being is implanted in a woman’s uterus with the purpose of bringing him or her to a later developmental stage. Both procedures are morally wrong for a number of reasons, but especially because they threaten human dignity.
More Distortions, Deception, & Disinformation
Ruethling writes that the IRMI prohibits research involving “tissue that was bought or sold for research, and embryos from abortions.” She must want the reader to think that researchers will not be purchasing the tiny human beings.
Let’s look at what the executive order actually says about the exchange of money:
No funds shall be awarded to any person who knowingly, for valuable consideration, purchases or sells embryonic or cadaveric fetal tissue for research purposes. For the purposes of this paragraph, payment of customary medical charges for the removal, processing, disposal, preservation, quality control, storage, transplantation, or implantation of the tissue does not constitute valuable consideration. This paragraph does not prohibit reimbursement for removal, storage, or transportation of embryonic fetal tissue for research purposes pursuant to this Executive Order.
Department rules shall limit payments for the purchase of stem cells or stem cell lines to reasonable payment for removal, processing, disposal, preservation, quality control, storage, transplantation, implantation, or legal transaction or other administrative costs associated with these medical procedures and shall specifically include any required payments for medical or scientific technologies, products, or processes for royalties, patent, licensing fees, or other costs for intellectual property.
Most reasonable people will recognize this wording as allowing for “payment” for the acquisition of human embryos.
Perhaps Ruethling did not properly research her report. Perhaps she did not read the entire executive order. Perhaps she doesn’t know embryonic stem cell research is not illegal. Perhaps she does not know the difference between reproductive and therapeutic cloning. Perhaps she does not know what “valuable consideration” is. Perhaps her bias is showing. I do not know. I do know that she does her readers a disservice.
The Associated Press (AP)—which describes itself as the “backbone of the news and information industry since its creation in 1848”—has this to say about people who are opposed to Blagojevich’s Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute: “Opponents of stem-cell research believe it is immoral because it destroys an embryo, which many consider [emphasis added] to be human life.”
Writing for the Chicago Tribune, John Chase follows this same subtle, pejorative tactic: “ . . . somatic cell nuclear transfer—is considered cloning by the Roman Catholic Church.” Chase further opines, “opponents believe creating embryonic stem cells is akin to cloning and destroying them during research is ending a potential [emphasis added] human life.”
These examples of the oh-so-typical use of semantic gymnastics would be laughable if the situation were not so serious. Does the AP want its readers to believe that human embryos are not human life? Does Chase want his readers to think that those people who oppose embryonic stem cell research and cloning (typically the same ones who oppose abortion) are ignorant and non-thinking? Contrary to Chase’s assertion, the Catholic Church does not “consider” somatic cell nuclear transfer to be cloning. The Catholic Church knows that somatic cell nuclear transfer is cloning. Furthermore, we do not believe that “creating embryonic stem cells is akin to cloning.” We know the difference between human embryos and human clones. We know that creating embryos to destroy them for their stem cells is an affront to human dignity.
Secondly, we do not believe that “destroying [human embryos] is ending a potential human life.” We know that destroying human embryos ends actual human life because we know that human life begins at fertilization— science has clearly demonstrated that fact.
We also know that we cannot rely on the dominant media culture for truth in reporting.