Many of us remember sadly when Ron Reagan, the son of President Ronald Reagan, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Reagan said he was there to talk about research into “what may be the greatest medical breakthrough in our or in any lifetime: the use of embryonic stem cells...to cure a wide range of fatal and debilitating illnesses: Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes” and more.
Reagan then invited listeners to imagine being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and undergoing a procedure that involves the use of embryonic stem cells. These cells would – if injected in the brain – replace the “faulty cells whose failure to produce adequate dopamine led to the Parkinson’s disease in the first place.” Reagan explained. “In other words, you’re cured,” he announced.
“Sound like magic?” he asked “Welcome to the future of medicine.” The problem is, the promise of medicine’s magical future was a lie – and the scientists who were pushing embryonic stem cell research – and getting people like Reagan to push it – knew it at the time. The glowing promises were nothing more than hype to persuade the public of the rightness of their cause, and get behind public funding for research that destroyed human embryos.
Last December, my friend, Professor Robert George of Princeton University, and Arthur Caplan, one of America’s most prominent liberal bioethicists, took part in an interview at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Caplan’s institution. It’s published in Public Discourse, an online publication of the Witherspoon Fellowship.
George and Caplan were discussing how we decide what research to support. Both agreed that we need some sort of moral norms to govern scientific inquiry.
During the conversation, George noted that Ron Reagan, to his mind, “wildly hyped the potential therapeutic promise of embryonic stem cell research...But it wasn’t true,” George declared.
Caplan – who supports embryonic stem cell research – then made an amazing admission: George was right. Caplan said, “Embryonic stem-cell research was completely overhyped, in terms of its promise. And people knew it at the time. The scientists had to have known that.”
Caplan added that the notion that people “would be out of their wheelchairs within a year if we could just get embryonic stem-cell research funded was just ludicrous.”
Caplan also shot down Reagan’s assertion that embryonic stem cell research would lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s. “Stem cell research has no possibility of helping Alzheimer’s,” he declared. An astonishing admission!
Caplan deserves credit for speaking the truth even if it makes his side look bad. But it’s grossly immoral that scientists and researchers would peddle false hope just so they could reap billions of dollars in research funding. Clearly, we can’t always rely on scientists to tell the truth when money – or a political agenda – is at stake.
Protecting the sanctity of human life is just one of many reasons why Christians must effectively engage the culture – and why I’ve launched The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.