Opinion » Bill Cope

Stem Cell Phonies

And yet another modest proposal


Before we get started, let me quickly explain how I define cynicism. Cynicism is (and you can disagree with me all you want, but it's unlikely I'll believe a word you say) simply Mother Nature's way of balancing out hypocrisy. Reaction equals action. Tit equals tat. Cogito = sum. Ergo, a little hypocrisy calls for a little cynicism. A huge hypocrisy ... well, you get the idea.

OK, then, on with the show.

On the evening before Memorial Day, a bunch of us were circled up on folding chairs and lawn furniture in my garage like some kind of hillbilly group therapy session, because those thunderstorms that went through late in the afternoon had knocked the "backyard" part out of our "backyard barbecue." We started kicking around possible sources for embryonic stem cells that-as evidenced by prevailing policy-couldn't possibly offend George Bush's sense of moral rectitude. I got the ball rolling by suggesting those besieged refugees in Dafur could supply all the stem cells a research fella would ever need. Somebody else pointed out there's gotta be a ton of stem cells going to waste in Iraq, even if you only count the innocent civilians who get caught in the crossfire, and yet another brought up Texas death row inmates.

At that, one of our guests said she was pretty sure that to get embryonic stem cells, you had to have embryos-which is something you're unlikely to find on a death row even in Texas. "Hell," I replied, "those Texans seem to enjoy executing people no civilized country would even consider putting to death, so surely they wouldn't mind if somebody gathered a few fertilized eggs off the dead-women-walking before they go in for their big injection."

Now, after what I just told you, many of you may be thinking I've allowed my inner cynic to overcome whatever teensy bit of good taste I still possessed-that Beastly Bill has finally booted Sweet William off the keyboard and is now in full control. But contrary to the dark and acerbic tone of that conversation, it was all in the interest of a noble purpose. That's right, our little garage band was simply trying to extend the spirit of compromise that had settled upon Washington earlier in that same week, remember ... when John McCain, Joe Lieberman and 12 other Solons navigated their shaky bipartisan ship twixt the Scylla of Bill Frist's "nuclear option" and the Charybdis of Harry Reid's Senate shutdown? Good to know there are still people at the highest levels who understand the essence of democracy is compromise, isn't it?

And then a couple days after that, when 60 House Republicans bolted the flock and joined Democrats in agreeing to fund embryonic stem cell research ... glory be, it felt like there might be a somewhat sensible light at the end of this long, dark tunnel vision. You could almost hear the victims of debilitating diseases cheering on the 109th Congress. "Thank you, thank you, rebel Republicans, for caring as much for us actual, living, self-aware souls as George Bush pretends to care about globs of indistinct organic matter in some fertilization clinic, frozen harder than a 1960's Popsicle in the bottom of a 1950's chest freezer!"

Only ... within hours, that anathema to all things intelligent, that scourge of highly developed nervous systems everywhere, that nemesis of complex thought patterns, that pox on our nation ... that George Bush ... stomped out this flickering flame of medical hope, saying in that dry-drunk twang of his, "I made it very clear to Congress that the use of federal funds, taxpayers' money to promote science which destroys life in order to save life, I'm against that. And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it."

Get it? Bush will allow no governmental support for procedures that might prove beneficial to millions of suffering humans-trillions, if you count coming generations-if it means damaging what is, essentially, medical waste. There is no limit to the number of people he would let die-miserably, horribly and slowly-so that an infinitesimal fraction of those ice-house zygotes might possibly find a good, warm womb someday and grow up to be used as props in a photo-op.

(Bush later offered what appeared to be a compromise of his own, saying that research could continue using stem cells from adult, animal and placental sources. And with this brilliant contribution to the idea stream, I'm sure thousands of highly trained research scientists-i.e., men and women who actually paid attention in school-slapped their foreheads and shrieked, "Why didn't I think of that!? And golly, if we don't need embryos to do embryonic stem cell research, maybe we don't need stem cells! Maybe we could use any old kind of cell! Like from nail clippings or kidney stones! Or maybe we don't need cells at all! Maybe we could do our embryonic stem cell research on a sack of concrete! God bless you, George Bush! You have opened up a whole new universe of medical exploration!")

But given that for the foreseeable future, embryonic stem cell research will likely require embryos, is there a compromise around this presidential blockage?

Certainly! (And here's where being a stone-cold cynic really pays off.) Take those Sudanese Africans Bush has done nothing to protect. We can only assume the sanctity of life doesn't include them, or we'd be doing something to stop their genocide, right? So, I say, if their mass slaughter is nothing to trouble our ethics over, surely their embryos can't be much of a loss, either.

Or the inadvertant "oopsies" we're making in that war Bush lied to get us into, don't forget them. Face it, whether a fetus is destroyed in an abortion clinic or with a round of friendly fire, it doesn't make much difference to the fetus. So why not put all that stem cell collateral damage to good use?

See? With a little imagination and ample assistance from existing Bush policies (applauded vigorously by the culture-of-life crowd), we could be knee-deep in embryonic stem cells. But listen, as to knocking up female death row inmates in Texas so we can use the embryos for research (after the autopsy, of course) ... well, that was a little over the top, I admit. We should probably stick to using embryos from those faraway lands we've already decided are worth destroying if it means saving American lifestyles. Ignorance is the compromise to so many problems, isn't it? ... from hypocrisy to cynicism.