Stem Cell Research, Cloning, and Euthanasia, Bioethics Year in Review

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 11, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Stem Cell Research, Cloning and Euthanasia, Bioethics Year in Review Email this article
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by Wesley J. Smith
December 11, 2006 Note: Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. Visit his web blog at

Looking back on the year past in bioethics and biotechnology, one is tempted to resort to that old cliche; it was the best of times it was the worst of times. But that would be overly optimistic.

The year 2006 was, overall, not a good year for those promoting bioethical and biotechnological policies firmly rooted in the sanctity/equality of all human life—with particular stinging defeats in the areas of embryonic stem cell and human cloning research.

This is not to say that there wasn’t some good news. Here are some victories that warmed the cockles of my heart:

Assisted Suicide: A diverse coalition of political strange bedfellows—made up of pro life advocates, disability rights activists, advocates for the poor, and medical professionals—defeated AB 651, which would have legalized Oregon-style assisted suicide in California. Given the size and importance of California, a law permitting assisted suicide in the Golden State would have boosted the euthanasia agenda throughout the country, and indeed the world. Legalization attempts were also thwarted in Vermont, Hawaii, and Arizona, as well as in the United Kingdom.

Futile Care Theory: Hospitals around Texas began to implement the law that permits ethics committees to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment. There was major pushback by families against these impositions—particularly in the Andrea Clarke case—and the hospitals generally backed off.

Adult/Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cell Research: Many advances continue to be made in ethical stem cell research. For example, a peer reviewed paper demonstrated that a patient’s own olfactory stem cells can help restore feeling in people paralyzed by spinal cord injury. Meanwhile, the federal government enacted a law creating a national umbilical cord blood stem cell bank that should promote increased research and greater access to these powerful cells for therapeutic uses.

Animal Rights/Liberation: The Animal Enterprises Terrorism Act became law, making it easier to punish violence and intimidation in the name of human/animal moral equality.

The bad news was also, alas, in plentiful supply:

Embryonic Stem Cell and Human Cloning Research: The worst news of the year was the narrow passage by Missouri voters of Amendment 2—which legalized human cloning for biomedical research in what some now refer to as the “Clone Me State.” Making matters more frustrating, the constitutional amendment pretended to “ban the cloning of a human being,” which was false from a scientific perspective, and the Missouri courts permitted the false assertion to be made, anyway.

Public Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell and Human Cloning Research: A California, a judge ruled against a lawsuit seeking to invalidate Proposition 71 as violating the state’s constitution. This means that unless the Court of Appeal, and probably the State Supreme Court see things differently, at some point down the road, Californians will borrow $7 billion (when interest is included) to fund human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Passage of Proposition 71 has also sparked an Oklahoma Land Race mentality to see which state could throw the most public funding at this embryonic stem cell research. At the federal level, veto by President George W. Bush against a law seeking to expand federal funding of ESCR was sustained, but the November election brought a new team into town which might have the muscle to override the President next time around.

Infanticide: Pro infanticide articles appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, among other professional and popular publications. Meanwhile, doctors in the Netherlands admitted engaging in infanticide and the response of the Dutch Government has been to move toward explicit legalization.

Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia: In Gonzales v. Oregon, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against the federal government’s attempt to outlaw the use of federally controlled substances in assisted suicide. While the decision stated that Congress could pass such a law, that won’t happen anytime soon. Moreover, the media wrongly reported that the ruling “upheld” assisted suicide, furthering the pro assisted suicide cause. Meanwhile, the Swiss continue to permit “suicide tourism,” and the Belgian rate of legal euthanasia killings continued to rise.

All in all, it was an eventful 2006, with 2007 likely to be more active in the related fields of bioethics and biotechnology. Stay tuned, as the CBC engages the culture energetically in the cause of preserving the unique moral importance of all human life.