What lies beneath the platform for life?

By Christian Piatt

Originally printed in the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, now running for president in 2008, came out with his position on stem cell research. In a nutshell, he feels that adult stem cells, as well as only those embryonic cells previously committed, should be used. Use of any other embryonic cells, which are harvested from early-stage embryos, should be disallowed.

Though vague partisan lines have been drawn around this contentious issue, folks from either side of the aisle have bucked the status quo of their peers, coming out for or against embryonic stem cell research. The burning question seems to be whether or not the loss of potentially viable embryos is worth the lives they may save through scientific innovation.

Unfortunately, this is yet another example of emotionally-charged political rhetoric completely missing the mark.

Topics such as stem cell research, abortion and other related issues are becoming increasingly prominent foundations points for political platforms. Clearly, religious leaders too have taken positions and dug their heels in. No presidential candidate will get through the gauntlet to the White House without stating their views about such polarizing concepts.

On the matter of stem cell research, the entire debate is off the point. What really is at issue is that thousands of embryos are created, frozen and stored at fertility clinics for future use. At such a point when they are no longer viable or are not wanted by the donors, they are thrown in the garbage. So now, instead of using these embryos to save lives, they’re lining a dumpster.

Why, then, is the debate focused on stem cell research rather than whether or not people should be allowed to employ science to make babies?  A few people raise this, but hardly anyone listens. That’s because it’s not only less exciting, but there’s a chance it would be more politically damaging to even consider taking people’s right to fertilize as they see fit away.

Better to haggle over something about which most people are interested but don’t know enough to have an informed opinion. If it wins votes, that’s really all we seem to have time for, nearly two years away from the election.

Along these same lines, the debate about abortion has become more a shouting match than a discussion. It’s no longer about discourse, but rather about who ultimately will have enough muscle to win. Even the moniker, “pro-life” suggests anyone who does not share the same ideals is “anti-life.” All who are against life, please raise your hand.

Some leaders are adopting what has been called the “platform for life” to woo the religious right. In part, it is based on matters such as these noted above, but equally fascinating is what seems to be absent from this agenda. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but everything I’ve read and heard about the platform for life focuses on abortion, embryonic stem cells and assisted suicide.

Nowhere have I found mention of capital punishment or gun control. Does anyone think issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention, gang violence or substance abuse addiction deserve a place on the platform for life?  How about the prevention of hate crimes, poverty or obesity? What about global climate change, water quality or genocide?

It’s easy to talk about scientific research about which we know painfully little. It’s equally attractive to slap two labels on an issue as complex as abortion and to draw a line in the sand. It’s easy to tie a handful of social positions together with a bow, only to dangle them out the window to see which candidates will bite.

What’s hard is dealing with the social roots beneath issues such as abortion, poverty, violent crime, abuse and hate. It’s overwhelming to consider how to begin repairing a system that evidences its brokenness in such tragic ways.

It’s safer to argue about the color, size and shape of the bandage than to deal with the wound that lies beneath.

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