Echoing GOP scare tactics, Kristol, Novak, and Sullivan conflated embryonic stem-cell research with human cloning

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and CNN host Robert D. Novak wrongly claimed that proponents of the bill recently passed by the House of Representatives to permit federal funding for embryonic stem cell research are motivated by their support for human cloning. On Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Kristol said the debate on the bill was "really about cloning, which is what the scientists want to do," while Novak said on CNN's Crossfire that support for the stem cell bill reflected a "desire to have human cloning."

Kristol's and Novak's assertions echo statements by Republican House members opposedPDF file to embryonic stem cell research who are trying to link in the public's mind embryonic stem cell research, which polls show the public widely supports, with human cloning, which polls show is unpopular.

During a panel discussion about the bill, Kristol claimed that the embryonic stem cell bill marks a step toward human cloning. The bill, H.R. 810, would allow federal funding for research using stem cell lines derived from embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments:

KRISTOL: But, I mean, in fact, this [debate] is really about cloning, which is what the scientists want to do. Because that's the way you get the designer stem lines. The IVF embryos are of limited utility for the scientific research that the biogeneticists want to do. This is an attempt to move down the path which other states, of course, have already provided funding for -- California -- for the actual creation of cloned embryos, which are going to be destroyed to create designer genes, basically. The president is against creating embryos for the sake of destroying them.

Contrary to Kristol's suggestion, the House bill would permit funding only for research on stem cell lines derived from excess embryos that would otherwise be destroyed. The bill maintains Bush's existing ban on federal funding for research on stem cells derived from embryos, cloned or otherwise, that were originally created for purposes other than fertility treatment, as Media Matters for America has noted.

In addition, many House members who supported the stem cell bill also voted for the "Human Cloning Prohibition Act" (H.R. 534). This act would ban all cloning of humans or human tissues and would apply to the procedure itself, not just federal funding for it. That bill passed the House in February 2003, but died in the Senate [Los Angeles Times, 5/23/05]. One House member who voted for the stem cell bill, Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-CA), noted during the debate on H.R. 810 that "I do not support cloning."

Novak also linked the embryonic stem cell legislation and human cloning on CNN's Crossfire. Novak said that the push to fund embryonic stem cell research is "all a desire to have human cloning to determine the superiority of man over God." He also claimed the stem cell bill was "junk science." In fact, the National Institutes of Health states that scientists are "excited about human embryonic stem cells" because "[s]tem cells have potential in many different areas of health and medical research."

Conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan made a claim similar to Kristol's and Novak's on the May 28 edition of the syndicated Chris Matthews Show. Sullivan responded to host Matthews' summary of H.R. 810 by claiming, "We're talking about people, on embryos, who would be human beings if they were implanted in a womb. That is not a trivial matter. We're talking about creating possibly clones of people to experiment on them." Sullivan admitted that cloning was not in the legislation after Matthews challenged him.

These comments echoed talking points by the Republican Study Committee, a group of 100 House Republicans that favors "a conservative social and economic agenda." In a May 24 memoPDF file on H.R. 810, the group wrote that the bill would allow federally funded research on cloned human embryos and would constitute a "first step" toward allowing therapeutic cloning:

Because the bill overrides current law, if a human embryo clone was created by an in-vitro fertilization clinic for fertility purposes, H.R. 810 would allow federal funds for research on the human clone embryo. Opponents of H.R. 810 have noted that most of the organizations most actively promoting H.R. 810, such as the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, are also strong supporters of a certain type of cloning they call therapeutic cloning. At a May 11 press conference in support of H.R. 810, Senator Orrin Hatch [R-UT], the sponsor of a pro-human cloning bill, referred to H.R. 810 as a critical first step, an apparent reference to a procloning bill being the next step.

But since the bill allows federal research funding only for embryos "created for the purposes of fertility treatment," the fear that the bill would enable scientists to create clones specifically designed to yield stem cells with "designer genes" is baseless.

From the May 29 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, with Washington Post staff writer Ceci Connolly and Fox News host Chris Wallace:

CONNOLLY: You know, I'm glad you showed some of those [video clips of House Republicans who spoke in support of the embryonic stem cell research bill], Chris, because that debate on Tuesday in the House was truly one of the most interesting, remarkable floor debates I've heard in many years here in Washington. It was extremely personal and emotional for many of these individuals, either they or a family member suffering from some sort of terrible illness that they think might be helped by this science.

And interestingly, a lot of these lawmakers and the public have learned a lot over the past four years about embryonic stem cell research and what's involved. And essentially this argument came down to a discussion about whether or not you think those cell lines taken from an embryo in a petri dish is life. And if you believe that that is life, as the president says he does, then they object to it. If not, as Jo Ann Emerson said, then you feel that that can be used to extend life. It was a very rich debate.

WALLACE: I'm not sure that the bigger issue wasn't the question of the embryos, and that the embryos that they were very -- it was very narrow, what they were talking about, the embryos that have been used in in vitro fertility clinics that had not in fact been used, they were the leftovers, and that would have been thrown away. So, I mean, I don't think there's much support in Congress for creating new embryos and certainly not for cloning. It was that they, you know, for these, quote, "spare embryos" --

CONNOLLY: That you would extract the cell lines from, precisely.

KRISTOL: But, I mean, in fact, this is really about cloning, which is what the scientists want to do. Because that's the way you get the designer stem lines. The IVF embryos are of limited utility for the scientific research that the biogeneticists want to do. This is an attempt to move down the path which other states, of course, have already provided funding for -- California -- for the actual creation of cloned embryos, which are going to be destroyed to create designer genes, basically. The president is against creating embryos for the sake of destroying them.

I think actually, if he makes the case to the country, I'm not sure where the country ends up on this. The claims of the science and medicine are very powerful. But people do have the sense that this really is a slippery slope, and you have to draw a line somewhere. Maybe the country isn't quite willing to draw the line where President Bush is in terms of federal funding, but I'm not sure that ultimately this -- you know, there were a lot of powerful speeches by the 190 congressmen who opposed this, many of whom have family members who suffer from diseases. And who said, "Wait a second. We can't change the whole moral constitution of the country because, unfortunately, someone suffers from a disease."

On the May 27 broadcast of CNN's Crossfire, Novak responded to progressive columnist Margaret Carlson:

CARLSON: Hopefully, the U.S. Senate will follow suit. Even that raving lefty Orrin Hatch sees the highest moral purpose of a clump of cells is not to sit on the shelf in an IVF clinic or to be discarded, but to save the life of a human, breathing, suffering person. Hopefully the Senate will heed the call of their colleague, Senator Arlen Specter [R-PA], battling cancer at this very moment as he pleads for reason from the right wing of his party.

NOVAK: This is a very sad story, because this is junk science. There is no proof that this is going to help anybody. It's undetermined. And what this is, it is all a desire to have human cloning to determine the superiority of man over God. This is a very serious thing. And in Boston today, Margaret --

CARLSON: Yes, Boston, I know Boston.

NOVAK: [Massachusetts] Gov. Mitt Romney vetoed a human cloning bill.

From the May 28 broadcast of the syndicated Chris Matthews Show:

MATTHEWS: We're talking about common sense -- Howard [Fineman, panelist and Newsweek chief political correspondent] used the phrase, I think it's right. We're talking about when you go to a fertility clinic and people who want to have babies are having problems having babies, they fertilize eggs, they have a number of them left on the shelves, they're in a cryogenic state, they're frozen. They're talking about using those that would ultimately be destroyed for medical research.

SULLIVAN: We're talking about experimenting on people, on embryos, who would be human beings if they were implanted in a womb. That is not a trivial matter. We're talking about creating possibly clones of people to experiment on them.

MATTHEWS: Who is talking about that?

SULLIVAN: The clones of embryos are being used, have been made in Korea. They will be shortly -- they're being used in other countries.

MATTHEWS: That's not in this legislation.

SULLIVAN: Not in it, but I'm saying it doesn't matter whether they're clones or not, they're human life that we're experimenting on. There is a real moral question here. Why should the federal government be funding this kind of -- they're not saying ban it as Norah [O'Donnell, NBC chief Washington correspondent] rightly says and which the media I think has been guilty of distorting, we're saying why should the federal government be funding experimenting on human life?

Posted In
Environment & Science, Stem Cell Research
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