The Truth, Mainly - 07/31/2006

Do frozen embryos equal live babies?
by Leon Satterfield

I haven't been sleeping well lately. One reason is that I've been worrying about not sleeping well. The more important reason though is that I've been trying to figure out our president's bizarre take on frozen embryos.

It started a couple of weeks ago when President Bush took the odd position that medical research using frozen stem cells from frozen embryos was equal to killing little babies. So he vetoed a bipartisan bill that, according to its congressional sponsors, could lead to new and more successful treatment of nasty problems like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

(Among those speaking in favor of the bill was Nancy Reagan—whose Republican husband, you'll remember, died of Alzheimer's.)

But President Bush, according to a Denver Post editorial, "bowed to supporters who believe that the extraction of stem cells effectively ends a potential life."

Scientists, though, the editorial went on, "would use cells that would otherwise be tossed away, and proponents in both parties believe that safeguards are adequate."

The embryos, the editorial told us, were "left over from fertility clinics and destined for disposal anyway….The embryos…are microscopic in nature, smaller than a pinhead, and without human characteristics."

But President Bush—and those he perceives as supporting him—have about as much respect for established science as a voodoo statesman has. And that, I tell myself, is why I'm having trouble sleeping.

And what really interests me is that while the president rails against science, he grins a goofy little grin that makes me grin.

I'm not sure why he grins, but I grin because I think his grin alienates the majority of Americans, 60-some percent of whom oppose the president's position on this question.

He seems unable—or unwilling—to distinguish between what were once potential babies (i.e. frozen embryos), and babies who are already around, grinning and squealing and needing their diapers changed.

Tony Snow, one of the president's spokesmen, said this earlier this month: "The simple answer is [the president] thinks murder is wrong."

That, as you might imagine, set off a hue and a cry from those who have a hard time hearing the word "murder" applied to the passing of frozen embryos.

"What'll they come up with next?" I can imagine the president's political enemies saying. "That the Democrats are using anti-aircraft fire to bring down storks who are delivering little babies?"

Or "If murder is what we're doing to frozen embryos, what are we doing to Iraqis who think we ought to go home?"

Tony reneged several days later.

Using the word "murder," he said, was "overstating the president's position. He would not use that term….I overstepped my brief there."

Meanwhile, the president is taking a lot of heat, and whether he said "murder" or not, he seems to have no objection to waging a war that is killing off fully grown humans at an obscene rate.

Political cartoonist Mike Keefe had a drawing a week ago Friday entitled "A 'culture of life' update from the president." It depicts President Bush surrounded by the ruin of war in Iraq. And he's saying this: "No frozen embryos were harmed in the making of this war."

And a day later, a six-panel cartoon was published showing the president saying this to a container of frozen embryos: panel 1, "I love you frozen little fellers"; panel 2, "I'll protect you from evil scientists. Gootchie goochie goo"; panel 3, "You can grow up to be strong men and women"; panel 4, "And then I'll send you off to war"; panel 5, "where you can die a hero"; panel 6, "cause I value life."

When I was a fifth-grader back in 1944, I delivered the Wichita Beacon to about 20 people in my hometown of 600. One of my customers was a very nice woman who'd given birth to between 15 and 20 kids (I was never sure who was who), the youngest being three years younger than me, the older males off fighting in WW2. They were all nice people, but the mother didn't seem much happier than my mother, who stopped reproducing after she'd given birth to only four of us.

OK, that's the end of my cool-headed objective response to all this. Now it's time to make a confession: When it comes to talking about human reproduction, I'm not an objective source.

Because after producing three unbelievably good looking and incredibly gifted children who are even now living remarkably virtuous lives, my wife and I opted out of the baby-making game.

I got a vasectomy back in the seventies which rendered me inoperative as a partner in the production of embryos.

I suppose our president would disapprove (although I notice he and Laura quit after only two kids), in which case my wife might bonk him on his presidential head with a cast-iron skillet.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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