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Tuesday, 25 July 2006 03:03

Steven Jonas: Stemming the Tide; Signing the Pledge

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by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

We liberals and progressives may someday get back into power, in both the Congress and the White House. Don't hold your breath, but even with the monstrously weak Democratic Party and the monstrously strong Republican cheating machine, it might conceivably happen. If it does, there will be a host of most important issues to deal with, ranging from restoring the Constitutional system of checks and balances, to re-establishing the Federal government in the role envisioned for it by the Preamble to the Constitution, to dealing with Iraq and the whole Middle East with a policy designed to achieve the best results for the people of the region, not the US oil companies. We will also need a new Federal stem cell research policy.

The present one is based on the religious notion that life begins at the moment of conception. Further, present policy is based on the notion that if a particular religious notion is held by the party in power it ought to be imposed upon everyone, even those who hold the belief, religious or otherwise, that life begins at the time of viability. As the First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..." The Republican Religious Right, presently in power, just ignores this provision of the Constitution, just as they ignore so many others.

It should be noted that this is the principal principle at stake here. It is not a matter of how many unused IVF candidate embryos there are, how many might be "adopted," how many will eventually be thrown away, and so on and so forth. It is a question of whether one particular religiously based point of view is to be imposed upon the whole population of our great nation, whether or not all members agree with those who hold to it. Obviously those presently in power think that doing so is just fine. In certain circumstances, such as the matter of freedom of choice in the outcome of pregnancy, they even want to enforce their life-begins-at-the-moment-of-conception (LBATMOC) religious belief upon every American, through the use of the criminal law.

Well, one thing liberals and progressives believe in is freedom of choice in all religious matters, as stated in the First Amendment. And so, if we ever get back in, it is presumed that there will be a resumption of Federal support for stem cell research. But in that case, one might ask, what would that do to the religious beliefs of the LBATMOC folks? Wouldn't such a policy trample their beliefs in the dust? An excellent question, in my view, and I have come up with a policy that I think would deal with it, would provide the proper respect for it (a respect, I might add, they do not grant to those of us who believe that life begins at the time of viability).

First of all, all of the 400,000 or so existing embryos created by couples who no longer want to make babies with them would not be eventually thrown away. They would instead be offered up for immediate adoption to the LBATMOC folks. Whether they would be implanted in uteri or not, they would surely find happy homes. Since the Rove base consists of millions of families, surely that would present no problem. Second, since in the view of the LBATMOC folks none of these potential babies should ever be discarded, for those not adopted (and there might be a few) a private charity would be established to support them forever, relieving the makers of these potential babies of any private financial liability, such as they now have and periodically give up, leading to the present discarding of so many frozen embryos. Surely, the LBATMOC folks would come up with the many millions of dollars needed to keep the embryos on ice, as it were, forever, as it were. And in fact, a Federal start-up fund, equal to the size of the Bush Administration 2007 budgetary proposal to support the training of physician specialists in preventive medicine, surely an important Federal government function, would be established.

Finally, there would be the Pledge. A Pledge would be developed for the LBATMOC folks to sign swearing that neither they nor any of their off-spring would ever make use for themselves of any of the medical advances that would obviously be made by a full-scale federally supported stem-cell research program. Furthermore, they would pledge to pay out of their pockets any cost attendant upon their not using such interventions, so that their choice would not become a burden upon the taxpayers in general.

While the LBATMOC folks obviously don't want to make any concessions at all to the beliefs, religious and non-religious alike, of our side, I think that such a program would show the real concern and understanding that we have for their, totally religious concerns.

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) a weekly Contributing Author for The Political Junkies (www.thepoliticaljunkies.net) and a Columnist for BuzzFlash.