December 3, 2022

A senior moment for Bill Clinton?

Confusion over embryos

Former President Bill Clinton attempted to defend President Obama’s position
on stem cells on prime-time TV and ended up with egg on his face. He was
interviewed by Dr Sanjay
Gupta
, who was filling in for Larry King. Dr Gupta, a practicing
neurosurgeon who has also become a media star, reportedly declined the position
of Obama’s Surgeon-General, an important advisory post.

But the transcript
of the interview suggests that that both men were a bit fuzzy about what an
embryo is. Dr Gupta asked Clinton, "as someone who studied this", about the
future of human embryonic stem cell research. Mr Clinton’s response suggested
that he hadn’t burned the midnight oil over his embryology texts: "I believe the
American people believe it’s a pro-life decision to use an [IVF] embryo that’s
frozen and never going to be fertilized for embryonic stem cell research".

Of course, by definition, an embryo has already been fertilised, so this
clamoured for clarification. But Clinton repeated the error several times in the
course of the interview and was never corrected by Dr Gupta. A softball
interview? A slip of the tongue? A senior moment? A tactical ploy to desensitise
the public, some bloggers grumbled. But bioethicist Jennifer Miller
said that the former President, like the general public, was probably just
"confused". Perhaps Presidential confusion about the beginning of human life
goes with the territory. Barack Obama famously admitted
during the election campaign that determining when a baby gets human rights
was "above my pay grade".