Life v. Life

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Mike Kinsley takes after NYT conservative columnist-designate Ross Douthat for wooly thinking on stem cells–specifically, for focusing on the federal-research-funding issue while ignoring all those frozen embryos being destroyed or awaiting destruction in fertility clinics. This again proves, for Kinsley, that the anti-stem-cell forces “aren’t morally serious.” Nothing annoys social conservative intellectuals more than the charge that they aren’t morally serious.

This is an old argument of Kinsley’s, and the only thing wrong with it is that, in the wake of President Obama’s revocation of the Bush stem cell order, efforts are under way in some states to, in fact, address the fertility clinic issue. At the moment, the action is in Georgia, where both houses of the legislature have passed bills on embryonic life. Far be it from me, as a former Atlanta newspaperman, to accuse the Peach State Solons of moral seriousness. But they tried, Lordy, they tried.

Under pressure from the leaders of their religious base, House Republicans got up a bill to declare every embryo in a petri dish “to be a child in the eyes of God, though not the state revenue commissioner,” as my old colleague Jim Galloway put it. A provision forbade citizens to claim a tax deduction for an unborn embryo, which would have made nothing certain in Georgia except birth and taxes. Then, in order to get the sucker passed, the bill was effectively gutted.

Next up was the Senate, which went ahead and passed a bill of its own, which seemed to prohibit at least some forms of stem cell research in the state. To get it passed, the Republicans had to strip it of all penalties both civil and criminal, leaving open the possibility that research would proceed unhampered. What the House would do with bill was anyone’s guess, and that went as well for Gov. Sonny Purdue, who twice last week expressed his opposition to embryonic stem cell research but didn’t officially communicate that opposition to the state board of regents, which meant that grants could be pursued.

The religious rights leaders pronounced themselves delighted that they have gotten so far. Academic and business interests are up in arms, believing that the net effect will be to keep the money and the biotech companies out of state. Normally, business opposition would probably be sufficient to ensure that, in the end, nothing untoward happens. But in contrast to, for example, the teaching of evolution, embryo legislation engages a public generally supportive of the scientific agenda as well as a passionate fourth force–the couples seeking to get pregnant by in vitro fertilization.

In the scramble last week to pass some bill, any bill, the Georgia senators made sure that in vitro fertilization as presently conducted would be fully protected. Call it Kinsley 2.0.

Update: Reuters roundup of anti-stem cell research state action.