February 23, 2024


Everyone expects political ads on television to oversimplify things, but American ads dealing with stem cell research make mere oversimplification look like a PhD dissertation. The suggestion that embryonic stem cell research might not deliver the goods is interpreted as despicable Pharisaism. This ad aimed at a Republican congressman from upstate New York doesn’t even feature sick patients, only healthy patients who worry that they might get sick.

Or take from a Congressional race in Wisconsin designed to kneecap Republican John Gard.

The music is a bit odd, but the ad is quite effective. It cites favourable Republican favourites like Orrin Hatch and Nancy Reagan, juxtaposing them with Darth Vaders from “the extreme right” like disgraced Congressman Tom Delay, TV evangelist Pat Robertson and Focus on the Family president James Dobson. Gard’s ethical reservations would stifle hope for a range of diseases, the ad suggests. These include Alzheimer’s, which most scientists acknowledge is probably beyond stem cell cures.

This ad employs clever rhetorical jiujutsu to trip up opponents with the force of their own arguments. Dobson, for instance, is quoted as saying “Lowering that standard is also likely to lead to human cloning and harvesting of body parts conceived for this purpose.” But heightening the ethical danger doesn’t work; it only makes him look ridiculous, at least to viewers in the Badger State.

Similarly, the Wisconsin race for governor pits incumbent Jim Doyle against Mark Green, who is “too extreme” for the job because he opposes stem cell research. (Governor Doyle, on the other hand, has just handed over US$1 million to a private company started by the scientist who first isolated human embryonic stem cells, James Thompson.)

And finally, rubber-faced comedian Jon Stewart with Senator Sam Brownback’s defense of embryo rights.

Even though Brownback’s supporters would no doubt cheer his folksy explanations, Stewart’s ridicule suggest that vast swathes of American voters simply cannot comprehend his point of view.

There is one YouTube video opposing therapeutic cloning. Missourians are voting on an amendment to the state constitution which would bulletproof it from legislative interference.

focuses on “biotech special interests who stand to gain millions of dollars”. It takes a more cerebral approach and has little of the emotional punch of the pro-research ads.


IN BRIEF: Finland; nurse killer, surrogacy, Serono, prizes

Finland: after years of delay the Finnish parliament has approved a law which allows single women and lesbians to receive fertility treatment. The legal affairs committee had endorsed a more restrictive version of the law, which would have limited treatment to a heterosexual couple.