BOSTON -- With Ron Reagan's address last night, the Democratic convention shifted from hokey artifice to downright dishonesty and flagrant falsehood. The reason for having the late former president's son speak was obvious. It had nothing to do with bipartisan appeal -- this Reagan has never been a Republican. The Democrats are trying to capitalize on sympathy for the Gipper's suffering at the hands of Alzheimer's disease.
That sort of melodrama and emotional manipulation is standard political fare and would be no more despicable than the kind of thing both parties do all the time were it not for the dishonesty that oozed from Reagan's performance.
To begin, stem cell research offers little promise for treatment of Alzheimer's. The chief way in which scientists believe they can do good with stem cells is in the replacement of corrupted cells in different parts of the body. Alzheimer's however, is not a cellular disease. It is what doctors call a "full-brain" disease.
Alzheimer's expert Dr. Dennis Selkoe recently told the President's Commission on Bioethics:
[T]he disease is so widespread in the nervous system as compared to Parkinson's ... that I would worry that stem cells would have that uphill battle [with regard to Alzheimer's].
While experts won't rule out the possibility stem-cell research can be used for Alzheimer's, it is widely considered to be not the most promising application of stem-cell therapy.
BEYOND THE IMPLICIT dishonesty (Ron never mentioned Alzheimer's in his speech) was the dishonesty in what the former ballet dancer actually said. First, Reagan described the process of cloning, but refused to call it that. In his words:
The nucleus of one of your cells is placed into a donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed. A bit of chemical or electrical stimulation will encourage your cell's nucleus to begin dividing, creating new cells which will then be placed into a tissue culture.
The scientific name for this process is Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT). The Bioethics Commission unanimously stated that "the initial product" of SCNT is "a living (one-celled) cloned human embryo." Reagan gave a speech under the pretenses of "embryonic stem cell research" when he was really singing the praises of cloning, which he dared not mention by name -- probably because public support for such research drops precipitously when it is so called.
Omissions continued to rain down. Saying that SCNT "creat[es] new cells" is exactly analogous to saying sexual reproduction creates new cells. Yes, both processes create new cells, and in both cases, the new cells are embryonic human beings. Which led to this chestnut:
By the way, no fetal tissue is involved in this process. No fetuses are created, none destroyed. This all happens in the laboratory at the cellular level.
On a technical level, he is correct. No "fetal tissue" is involved because only fetuses have fetal tissue. But the embryo has been killed or dissected before it could develop into a fetus, which is what you call an embryo once is gets to about eight weeks of gestation and has started forming organs.
Or again, dismissing opponents of embryonic stem-cell research:
They argue that interfering with the development of even the earliest stage embryo, even one that will never be implanted in a womb and will never develop into an actual fetus, is tantamount to murder.
But remember, Ron was talking about creating these embryos for the sake of experimentation, and so of course they will never develop into actual fetuses.
And of course, Reagan couldn't get through the speech without accusing opponents of bad faith -- literally. He at one point implied that the only well-intentioned reason to oppose his agenda is "theology":
But it does not follow that the theology of a few should be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many.
Again, he missed the nuances of the matter. Specifically, Reagan called on the government to use tax dollars in order to create human clones, and then experiment on and retard the development of these clones at an early stage so that these clones can be "your own personal biological repair kit" rather than, say, your little brother.
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