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Thu, March 21

Mass. governor stands on stem cell principles

Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney has infuriated Harvard scientists by declaring his opposition to stem cell research on embryos created for this purpose.

"Some of the practices that Harvard and probably other institutions in Massachusetts are engaged in cross the line of ethical conduct," Romney told The New York Times.

In a telephone conversation, Romney told me he thinks that the Harvard scientists have "pulled a bait and switch." At first, he says, they agreed that they could obtain enough stem cells from discarded embryos at fertilization clinics, which did not present an ethical problem to him because researchers would destroy such embryos anyway. But the scientists now are lobbying for creating and cloning embryos simply for experimental purposes. This he opposes.

The radically "pro-choice" New York Times, which rarely credits any pro-lifer with standing on principle, suggests Romney may be taking this position to curry favor with social conservatives so he might pursue higher office.

It is difficult to take such cynicism seriously when one considers that Romney's wife, Ann, suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disease that backers of stem cell research claim they might cure if they could do whatever they wish to embryos. That the Romneys would put their principles ahead of self-interest is rare in politics.

Romney says medical and scientific authorities have told him that sufficient stem cells exist or they can obtain them from fertility clinics and other sources to avoid therapeutic cloning and the destruction of embryos created specifically for this type of research.

"Creating human life for research and human experimentation is ethically wrong," he told me.

The governor's problem — indeed, the greater problem — is that culture has moved beyond objective truth. Science has effectively declared itself god and scientists are its high priests. What scientists say science can achieve is all that matters. People label anyone who refuses to bow down to their pronouncements a heretic who must suffer the kind of denunciation, ostracism and rejection once reserved for what the old horror movies called "mad scientists."

This is why the slippery slope analogy applies in cases such as stem cell research. Having abandoned an author and definer of life, it quickly becomes possible and then probable that any value attached to a living thing — particularly a human being — is simply a matter of individual or societal whim. Such values, like a fluctuating stock market, may change at any moment and for any reason, or for no reason.

A society that readily tolerates 45 million legal abortions (and counting) and feels a need to "do something" about the financial "burden" of the sick and elderly is not likely to feel moral arousal at the destruction of embryos, even for cloning and other experimental purposes.

If a horror like partial birth abortion does not shock our moral sensibilities, it is unlikely that destroying human embryos, which have sufficient chromosomes to become fully developed babies, will get our attention.

Romney's comments came after introduction of a bill to clear up ambiguities in Massachusetts law and allow such research. It's difficult to predict what the mostly Democratic Massachusetts Legislature will do, though some members stand with the governor in his opposition to therapeutic cloning and research on embryos created so researchers can kill them.

Perhaps a majority will come to their senses after considering how we got to this point and where we'll be headed, if we remove the few protections of human life remaining.

Do legislators want scientists to decide by themselves what is right, moral and ethical just so they can conduct this grisly business for profit and "prestige" in Massachusetts? It is unlikely legislators would grant such unrestricted power to any other profession or industry.

If Romney wins this battle, he will have done so on principle. Perhaps his stand will serve as an example of what can happen when a politician puts more noble things ahead of self-interest.

E-mail Cal Thomas at www.calthomas.com

(c) 2005 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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