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Stem cell debate about more than sin

Opinion Column

I hate news conferences when television personalities start hunting for sound bites.

That happened Thursday at the news conference with Alan Keyes and Rick Scarborough before a rally opposing Amendment 2, the constitutional amendment that would protect the industry of therapeutic cloning.

Here are some of the questions one television personality asked: How do you define cloning? Is it a sin to vote for this amendment? Is it a sin to vote for this amendment? Is it a sin to vote for this amendment? Why then don't you just say it is a sin to vote for this amendment?

Sigh. Theological illiteracy meets gotcha journalism.

What are the brainstorming sessions like at these television stations? Religious folks oppose this. They must be shouting some irrational hoodoo. Let's catch them.

This is how Keyes responded to the question seeking a definition of cloning: He said the amendment's supporters have described the process called somatic cell nuclear transfer as therapeutic cloning. The material cloned for the scientific procedure is human life. Otherwise it would not be useful.

The amendment also bans what it defines as human cloning. The amendment defines human cloning as the implantation of a somatic cell nuclear transfer blastocyst in a women's uterus.

After implantation, it becomes human. Before that, it is research material.

Keyes, Scarborough and many others interpret the science of somatic cell nuclear transfer to mean that human life is created and then destroyed for research.

Is it a sin to vote for this amendment?

Keyes responded with a question of his own. Is it wrong to kill innocent human life? This leads to another question: Is Keyes right? When does life begin?

Earlier this year, Greene County Medical Society president John Mihalevich and other supporters of the amendment met with our editorial board. I asked Mihalevich if there was scientific consensus about when life begins. He said no. Reasonable people can disagree.

Is it a sin to vote for this amendment?

This is what the Rev. Scarborough said: Purpose matters. If you study the science, agree that innocent human life is created and destroyed and vote to support the amendment, then that is a serious sin. If your conclusion after studying the science differs, that's a different type of moral situation.

But if you don't even study the science and make an uninformed decision, that's the worst possibility of all. This is an issue where people are playing on people's emotions.

I'm surprised the question wasn't, "Is it a sin to oppose this amendment?" After all, the amendment is about hope and longer lives — the triumphant march of research as scientists conquer human weakness.

People who have studied this issue and oppose the amendment believe adult stem cells hold just as much promise as embryonic cells. Two roads to one destination, yet they're not both ethically sound. Just because we can do something doesn't make it moral.

But the issue isn't just about protecting life at its earliest stages. It's about valuing all life. It's also about countering the message that if you're not physically and mentally perfect, than your life is imperfect and you desperately need to be fixed. That message needs to be countered. At some point, our bodies will fail all of us. That doesn't make us failures.