Ellen Goodman, Proposition 71 and Abortion
Shockingly, we agree, but not really.
If there were one person in the world who I would say is my polar opposite, it is Ellen Goodman, the Washington Post's far, far left political columnist. I know when I read her column I would be willing to bet the family dog that she and I will not agree. Her opinions are mostly ridiculous in that they are deserving of ridicule.
So, I guess you can imagine that I almost fell out of my chair the other morning when I saw that she had written a column slamming California's Proposition 71 entitled "Putting Stem Cells on the Ballot". We were in agreement! Unbelievable!
Now I don't want to kick too much at an ally in opposition to this poorly written law, but her column makes it clear that her opposition isn't to the important parts of the Proposition, but rather to the procedure by which it is carried forth. The details behind why she disagrees with the Proposition bears no resemblance to why I oppose the Proposition. She describes the situation as follows:
Prop 71 is, as one editorial writer said, a Bronx cheer directed at the White House. It's the way a blue state can thumb its nose at a red president. As Robert Klein, a leader of the effort, says, "We can run a substitute national program." This week, even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave his blessing to the initiative.
But even someone in favor of stem cells has to ask: Is this any way to run a science program?
This is the cost of thumbing that nose at the White House. The 30-page proposition would give $3 billion of public money to researchers -- $6 billion if you include interest -- over 10 years in a state that is cutting back on everything else. It would provide a constitutional right to stem cell research in a state without a constitutional right to health care.
As ethicist Lori Andrews says, "It's offering the worst of both worlds. It's asking the public to pay the check but leaving an unregulated biotech sector." And it would fund biotech research without promising any return to the public that paid for it. Not even for treatments that are bound to be extremely expensive.
This is the price tag of a Bronx cheer. The research in California is not about using spare embryos from in vitro clinics, but about cloned embryos. More troubling, says Andrews, is the researchers' attempt to "exempt themselves from laws on human subjects, including informed consent." There is no deference to the risks to the women who would be egg donors.
Now, I certainly agree with what she is saying in terms of the problems with the proposition, but these problems are not the main reason that people in California should oppose this proposition. The problems she cites are political problems in the bill that can be written around if the initiative fails. We can work out how the money is allocated in a rewritten proposition. We can work out whether women are given informed consent in the next attempt to have a follow-up, similar initiative approved if Proposition 71 goes down to defeat. What cannot be legislated around is that this proposition targets embryonic stem cells that have two major problems: (1) they do not appear to provide much hope for the cures that are claimed, and (2) they require the taking of a human life (an embryonic life). These problems are the core of the proposition, and cannot be modified without destroying the entire Proposition.
I am certain that, given Ms. Goodman's longstanding opposition to anything that hints at the curtailing of abortion, that she would not agree that the two problems I have noted above would be cause to jettison the proposition. She suggests as much in her column when she says:
It's rare that science ever gets on the political agenda, but stem cells came into this election laden with all the baggage of the abortion argument. The cells harvested from 5-day-old fertilized eggs are widely believed to offer hope for curing diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's. But the pro-life opponents have declared that the eggs are human and harvesting them is murder.
Note that it is "widely believed" that these eggs offer hope for curing diseases. What is widely believed, however, does not necessarily comport with the reality. Everything that I have read suggests that those who are most interested in finding cures for the diseases mentioned don't see embryonic stem cells as offering much hope. Adult stem cells are available and seem to do the job. My question for Ms. Goodman is very simple: why do you say that it is "widely believed"? Is it widely believed because you want it to be so? Or is it that it is widely believed because you and other members of the left have told us, contrary to the evidence, that embryonic stem cells offer such hope and so the public has come to believe that it is true?
Moreover, I long ago came to the conclusion that Ms. Goodman has no respect for people who are pro-life. By referring to the embryos (which are, by definition, living human beings) as having the "baggage of the abortion argument," Ms. Goodman makes it clear that the arguments that these cells are, in fact, living human beings entitled to protection of life are not worth considering. She has no problem with ending the life of these embryos in the same way that she has no problem ending the life of the human being in the womb at the convenience of the mother. I cannot fathom actually believing such a thing.
One last thing that I found interesting about her column was her criticism of President Bush's policy of allowing embryonic stem cell research to proceed in the private sector but his refusal to fund it with federal money. She said:
The Bush administration's policy created a strange two-track ethical code. The president froze federal funding on the grounds that embryos were human beings. But in the private sector, venture capitalists were left virtually unregulated. In its own ethical terms, says Boston University's George Annas, it was as if the government had declared that murder was illegal but a privately funded mafia was OK.
What is most interesting about this quote is that this is really the same type of policy that is in place regarding abortions. Under our system, the private sector is free to provide abortion procedures virtually without regulation (thanks to Supreme Court rulings), but the federal government refuses to fund the procedure. Isn't this a similar system to how embryonic stem cell research is proceeding? Isn't this a case of "the government" (through the executive branch) declaring "that murder was illegal" but (through the Supreme Court) declaring that "a privately funded mafia was OK"? If she has a problem with this system, shouldn't she start opposing privately funded abortions because the executive branch believes it to be murder and we don't want a governmental schizophrenia in this area?