Rick and Bella Santorum

On stem cells, why Rick Santorum is more pro-science than Michael J. Fox

When’s the last time you heard somebody argue about stem cell research? That debate remains relatively silent for the simple fact that pro-lifers won it, as it became increasingly clear that using human embryos was pointless in addition to being unethical. The latest success story in this regard is four-year-old Angela Irizarry, who had a new blood vessel created from the pointedly non-embryonic stem cells of her own bone marrow. When it comes to embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, it’s hard to maintain passion for something when there’s an alternative that promises all the material benefits with none of the moral complications.

Apparently Michael J. Fox didn’t get the memo. Appearing on CNN last week, the actor, whose affliction with Parkinson’s led him to become a high-profile advocate for embryonic stem cell research, condemned presidential candidate Rick Santorum as an anti-science nut (emphasis in original):

Well, I mean, he’s spoken out against science. He’s spoken out against education. And anyone would say that education is the pursuit of science. So obviously it will be – it will not be good. But on one hand, I’m kind of hoping he gets the nomination because he will be very vocal on these issues and will set up a stark contrast that people will really see.

Again, I don’t want to suppress ideas I don’t agree with. I want to – I want them, all things being equal, again, it was a vote – things are equal. Those ideas can be met and dealt with. And so if he – if he tries – I mean, certainly if he was elected, it would be – stem cell research would be shut down and all kinds of other things would be shut down, all kinds of scientific research.

Oh no, Fox doesn’t want to suppress ideas he disagrees with…he just wants to lie about them. Santorum does not oppose “stem cell research”; in fact, he’s sponsored legislation meant to advance stem cell research by seeking new methods to obtain pluripotent stem cells (cells capable of becoming multiple cell types) from sources other than human embryos. This is a quest in which the scientific community has been making great progress.

As Santorum himself clearly explains, the only place he draws the line is at the destruction of human embryos, based on the simple premise that killing people (which embryos objectively are) is wrong. Indeed, not only is Santorum on smarter scientific ground than Fox by focusing on where the real potential lies, but he’s also a better adherent of one of the essentials of scientific inquiry: the need to temper man’s natural curiosity and ambition with clear ethical boundaries.

If Fox respects the need for scientific ethics, then where do his preferred boundaries begin? On what basis does he draw the line for respecting life somewhere other than fertilization? Answering these questions would clarify his position for a healthier, more productive debate – if that were what Michael J. Fox really wanted. Sadly, he instead seems interested only in smearing those he disagrees with. Fortunately, adult stem cell research marches on without him, offering real hope for him and his fellow sufferers of Parkinson’s and other diseases.