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Friday, July 29, 2005

Blue shirt, gray pants?


Legend has it that at the outbreak of the American Civil War, one torn young man couldn't decide whether to join the army of the Union or the Confederacy. At last, he thought he had found the perfect compromise. He slipped into a navy blue shirt and gray pants, grabbed his gun, then charged into battle. Seconds later, bullets whizzed by him, coming from both directions. The hapless soldier became a target for both sides.

Today, Dr. Frist rushed into the fray wearing a blue shirt and gray pants. "I'm still pro-life," he insists, even as he lurches left on the embryonic stem cell debate. In the end, he may end up mistrusted by conservatives and liberals alike.

Senator Frist in his speech assured his fellow Senators that embryos would be treated with "dignity." But no amount of soothing rhetoric can mask the fact that the blastocyst, which Frist admits is "nascent human life," is destroyed in the process.

The tragedy of this political suicide is that it didn't have to happen. A heart-lung transplant surgeon, surely he knows like Wolfgang Lillge, M.D., of 21st Century Science and Technology that adult stem cell research has already proven itself useful in the treatment of the death of heart tissue. In addition, in some cases, it is therapeutic for chronic stomach ailments, as well as blood and skin diseases. (On the other hand, embryonic stem cell research to-date has shown little of the same therapeutic promise). Best of all, adult stem cell manipulation does not wipe out human life; no embryo is destroyed.

The main argument pushing House and Senate members into voting in favor of federal funding of embryonic stem cell research is that the embryos would be discarded anyways. But would they? Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune reports that thousands of couples are already adopting embryos leftover from others' in vitro fertilization procedures. These couples of modest means, many of whom could never have afforded their own in vitro regimen, can now adopt an embryo. Nine months later, they have a healthy baby. A nascent life that otherwise would never have fully gestated is welcomed into a loving home. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Meanwhile, Dr. Frist will be sporting his blue pants and gray shirt around Washington, to the applause of many a pundit. One place he's not likely to be wearing them in January 2009 is inside the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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