The odds of Mitt Romney becoming our next President seem to be increasing.
If Romney becomes our next president, what will he do about stem cells?
He’ll be an active enemy of embryonic stem cell research. He’ll support the crazy personhood movement.
Why do I say that?
Earlier this year I had a run in with a right-wing extremist group called The Witherspoon Council. They claimed ethical superiority over average Americans on the issue of stem cells and they issued a supposedly definitive report on stem cells. In their report they cited this blog as an example of stem cell social media run amok. What a compliment!
The Witherspooners are also pals with Fox News and Glenn Beck (see image above).
Why do I think the Witherspooners will run the stem cell show if Romney wins? First, they ran the show as a muckity muck ethical council for Bush Jr.
However, more telling is that the Witherspoon folks appear to have been instrumental in Romney’s “conversion” to be anti-choice, anti-stem cell research.
Romney reportedly first met with stem cell guru Doug Melton, who is co-Director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Melton apparently explained that embryonic stem cell cultures were established from leftover IVF embryos. Interestingly, Melton and Romney differ on what happened next during Romney’s visit.
Romney’s version, according to the NY Times:
What happened after that is disputed. A year and a half later, in June 2006, Romney would tell the journalist Judy Woodruff that the Harvard team displayed a flip attitude at the meeting that completely altered his thinking. “I sat down with a researcher, and he said, ‘Look, you don’t have to think about this stem-cell research as a moral issue, because we kill the embryos after 14 days,’ ” Romney recounted, explaining to Woodruff why he decided to change his position on abortion. “And that struck me as he said that. And I thought, Is that the extent to which we’ve cheapened life . . . that we think about killing embryos without batting an eye? And I recognized that I could no longer stand in the posture of saying, Look, I’m personally opposed, but I’m not gonna change the law. I needed to make it very clear that in my view, we are wrong to accept abortion, other than in cases of rape and incest.”
Melton says this did not happen as described in the NY Times piece:
Melton vehemently denies that he used the language Romney quoted. “I did not use the word ‘kill,’ ” he told me recently. “I’ve never used the word ‘kill’ in relation to this in any conversation with anyone, from elementary-school students to scientists in my laboratory to political leaders with whom I have met to discuss our work. And I wouldn’t use the word, because it is not descriptive in any way of the science we do.”
I tend to believe Melton. Scientists do not use the word kill in that way.
What happened next is clear and disturbing.
Romney met with one William Hurlbut, a Stanford bioethicist and member of the Witherspoon Council.
Apparently, Hurlbut talked with Romney for hours about embryonic stem cells, conception, and the controversy and convinced Romney to the Witherspoon way of thinking.
Hurlbut is quoted as follows about the Romney meeting:
it was obvious that he had put in a real effort to understand both the scientific prospects and the broader social implications. Finally, I was impressed by both his clarity of mind and sincerity of heart. . . . He recognized that this was not a matter of purely abstract theory or merely pragmatic governance, but a crucial moment in how we are to regard nascent human life and the broader meaning of medicine in the service of life.”
If Romney wins, which seems a distinct possibility these days, look for the Witherspoon Council and a new Presidential Ethics Committee akin to the one dominated by the Witherspooners during Bush Jr’s terms to write Romney’s policy on embryonic stem cells and perhaps even personhood.