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The LA Times Answers Stem Cells FAQs with Frequently Stated Misconceptions

Just because a question is frequently asked doesn't mean it should get a shoddy answer.

The Los Angeles Times does a genuine disservice to its readers in its analysis of President Barack Obama’s decision to dramatically expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The analysis purports to answer frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding stem cells in general and the controversy over embryonic stem cells. But what the Times produces instead is not a list of answers, but a recitation of frequently stated misconceptions (FSMs), half-truths, and outright lies about President Bush’s landmark decision to allow funding for the research for the first time, and the impact that Barack Obama’s rescinding of that decision will have on the research going forward.

We’ll take the questions and “answers” one by one below the fold.

First, let’s look at the premise that the article bases itself on.

Obama’s executive order removes funding restrictions put in place by President George W. Bush and fulfills an oft-repeated campaign promise. Scientists, patient advocacy groups and politicians on both sides of the aisle praised the action.

Right off the bat, the Times gets it wrong. President Bush did not place limits on funding for embryonic stem cell research in the way that the Times frames them. President Bush was the first president to authorize federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells. That point bears repeating because it is the most commonly held and erroneous belief in the entire stem cell debate. Put another way: Before President Bush’s August 2001 decision to authorize federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, there was no authorization for such funding.

That he did not go as far as proponents of the research would have liked is not nearly the same thing as placing a restriction on the research. If that were the case, then it could be argued that President Obama restricted federal funds available for economic stimulus programs because he only authorized $787 billion when some Democrats wanted nearly double that figure.

Now, here are some of the questions the Times tried to answer.

What exactly has changed?

Bush was the first to allow scientists to study human embryonic stem cells with federal funds. But he personally opposed the research on moral grounds because the cells can’t be made without dismantling human embryos.

Nice that the Times corrects its error from the opening, but then it goes and gets it wrong again. The canard that President Bush made his decision on stem cells out of some uninformed and misguided personal conviction is nonsense. President Bush had scientific and ethical advisers too, just like President Obama. And not all of them were even ordained ministers! Yes, President Bush was pro-life and so predisposed to making the decision he did. But, Bush’s decision was an informed one based on scientific, ethical, and moral advice informed by his personal convictions. President Obama’s decision is likely based on his personal convictions in favor of abortion. But you would never know it from the pains the Times takes to portray how excited and thrilled scientists are with his actions.

What does this mean for scientists?

Scientists are eager to get their hands on the newer lines, which are healthier and easier to use than the 20 or so that currently qualify for federal funding. Some of the newer lines have genetic fingerprints of particular diseases and could be used to test drugs and other potential therapies.

Scientists have always had access to any kind of stem cell they wished to experiment with. There has been no prohibition on research using embryonic stem cells. Scientists simply had to find other funding sources to use the newer stem cell lines. If scientists have been denied access to the lines, that’s because there has been relatively little state or private money made available for the research. All President Obama’s decision has done is make federal taxpayers foot the bill for research they may find objectionable. It has not made any research possible that was not possible before.

Haven’t scientists made embryonic stem cells without using embryos?

Not exactly. The hottest area of stem cell research involves reprogramming adult cells so they behave almost exactly like embryonic stem cells. But there are still many technical issues to resolve before these cells would be safe to use in patients.

Scientists have actually been able to program adult cells to behave like embryonic stem cells. There are technical issues to be resolved with the procedure, but that is also the case and more with embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cell treatments are working in humans right now, whereas embryonic stem cells have thus far shown nothing practical for their so-called vast potential. President Obama’s decision, however, will drain research dollars from adult stem cells as federal money will be directed toward the favored embryonic stem cell lines. This will have the unfortunate effect of delaying, not hastening, cures.

Worse, however, when he rescinded Bush’s stem cells decision, Obama also rescinded a less publicized Executive Order put in place by President Bush. Executive Order 13435 directed the federal government to find and fund research into ehthical alternatives to embryonic stem cells. Research into treatments based on them will still continue, especially since they have shown actual promise toward developing into cures. But it will be a whole lot more difficult to secure those funds. Under the same reasoning applied to President Bush’s decision, Obama’s action on this order is a restriction placed on adult stem cell research. And it is every bit as based on ideology, Obama’s pro-abortion ideology, as was Bush’s.

The Times mentions none of this.

What sorts of things will the NIH consider?

Scientists are also trying to create stem cells from custom-made embryos that are genetic copies of patients.

They would like to be able to study such cell lines with federal funds.

Why? Because private money for human cloning, which is what this is, is very scarce. So the Obama Administration’s answer is to force the taxpayer to pay for it. Brave new world, indeed.

Isn’t that cloning?

In a way, yes. The embryo is a clone, but it is destroyed long before it has the potential to grow into a baby.

It’s not a clone “in a way,” it is a clone, created for the sole purpose of being harvested for its parts. But the Times goulishly mentions this as reassurance. “Don’t worry, we’re going to kill it before it does any harm to your consicence.” All embryos have “the potential to grow into a baby.” That’s what embryos do unless something, or someone, intervenes. That’s part of the reason why cloning people is so morally wrong.

The Los Angeles Times did nothing to educate its readers by publishing this sorry excuse for answers to questions about stem cells. It glossed over the most controversial aspects of the Obama Administration’s decision, hid the truth about the potential of adult stem cells, and tried to pass off liberal criticisms of President Bush as historical facts. But that is the role the mainstream media has taken for itself these days: apologist for wrongheaded, ideological, and immoral decisions of the Obama Administration.

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