When does life really begin?

40The Roman Catholic bishop of South Bend, Indiana will not be attending the graduation ceremonies at the University of Notre Dame because President Barack Obama will be honored at that time. Obama's policies on embryonic stem-cell research and abortion conflict with Catholic teaching about the sanctity of human life. In his statement explaining why he wouldn't attend, Bishop John D'Arcy noted that the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 2004 wrote that "the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." D'Arcy said the measure of any Catholic institution is not only what it stands for but also what it won't stand for.

CNN.com has the story, which is pretty straightforward until you get to the following paragraph:

Earlier this month, Obama reversed a federal ban on embryonic stem-cell research. Many scientists say the research could lead to advances in treating conditions like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, while some abortion opponents believe destroying embryos in the research amounts to ending a human life.

Okay, where to begin?

1) There was no federal ban on embryonic stem-cell research. Scientists were free to destroy as many embryos as they wanted using whatever private and state funds they could find. There wasn't even a ban on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. President George W. Bush was the first president to federally fund stem-cell research that destroys embryos, although that funding was limited to only a couple dozen lines.

2) Do many scientists say the research could lead to advances in treating Alzheimer's? And, if they do, is that accurate? Let's go to this 2004 Washington Post story headlined "Stem Cells An Unlikely Therapy for Alzheimer's:"

But the infrequently voiced reality, stem cell experts confess, is that, of all the diseases that may someday be cured by embryonic stem cell treatments, Alzheimer's is among the least likely to benefit.

The story goes on to explain why scientists weren't eager, during the restrictive Bush administration, to correct the "distortion":

"To start with, people need a fairy tale," said Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Maybe that's unfair, but they need a story line that's relatively simple to understand."

You can read much more about how the media -- and some willing scientists -- hyped the Alzheimer's claim without benefit of any science to back up the claims.

3) Notice how the story compares "many scientists" with "some abortion opponents." As in: "Many scientists say the research could lead to advances in treating conditions like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, while some abortion opponents believe destroying embryos in the research amounts to ending a human life."

For the love of all that's holy, this spin must stop. We're supposed to believe that "science" speaks incontrovertible facts on the one hand while delusional folks, on the other, believe unsubstantiated bunk.

And yet in this sentence, nothing could be further from the truth. Scientists -- when not playing the political funding game, at the very least -- know that there is very little indication that the net result of embryonic-destroying research will be any progress with Alzheimer's.

And science is how we know when the life of a new human being begins. And it's not when you're 18. And it's not when you're born, as anyone with access to a pregnant lady's first trimester sonogram can tell you. Life is a continuum. And you may not think that individual rights are gained at the moment of fertilization or for months afterward, but that's when a new genetically distinct, individual human life begins. That's science. And this being science and all, you don't have to be a pro-lifer to acknowledge that fact. You can also acknowledge that fact and believe, say, that the right of a woman to control what happens in her body must be held sacred. Or you can acknowledge that fact and believe that the government shouldn't protect human rights until viability or birth. There are many different things philosophers, bioethicists and religious advocates believe about pregnancy -- such as when rights or personhood begin -- that science can't determine for us. But when a genetically distinct human being is formed is precisely where science comes into play.

But other than those errors, that was a great paragraph, CNN.

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