In the battles over embryo research, stem cell science, and the like, the media often presents a quite one-sided take on the issues. They can do this in several ways. One is simply to be selective in the reporting, omitting information, or featuring only part of the overall debate.
Another more insidious way is to pit heart against head. That is, often an emotional personal story will be pitted against a talking head simply seeking to present information. In much of the mass media, a moving personal story will usually win against just an opposing point of view.
Thus in an issue like embryonic stem cell research, often a pitiful wheelchair-bound sufferer of some disease will be presented by the one side, while the other side is just left trying to make the case factually. But it does not matter how many facts the person may have, the natural sympathies of the audience will flow to the victim and his or her moving, emotive story.
Thus the debates are often skewed from the start, when presented in this fashion. Emotional appeals tend to be much more effective than just an oral recitation of the facts. The use of disabled people to make a particular case can be very persuasive indeed.
One seldom finds those concerned about embryo research using such emotional appeals. But a case can be made that perhaps the pro-life side should seek to do just that: fight fire with fire, and feature one personal interest story to counter another.
This was in fact recently done in the Australian newspaper (12 June 2007). A disabled person was able (at least in the printed word) to make his case as to why destructive embryo research should not be allowed. Anthony Succar, a young quadriplegic, argued that the recent clone and kill bill passed in the NSW Parliament does not offer hope for people such as himself, but in fact takes away hope.
Says Succar, “One of the most frustrating experiences of life is the feeling of being used, exploited for the benefit of others while suffering loss or harm. It is a feeling of being violated and, while leaving self-esteem shattered, it kindles a deep sense of outrage. This is how I feel every time I hear one of our politicians claiming that people who suffer from crippling diseases support embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.”
And he knows this from first-hand experience: “When I was 14 I was involved in a motor vehicle accident that left me a C4-5 quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down. With all the hardships I undergo everyday as a result of my disability it is even more unbearable being used as a marketing tool for the agenda of others.”
He was rightly concerned about the “bold claims made by politicians during the past few days” in which many people were “convinced this so-called advancement in medical science is our only means of curing all kinds of illness and disease. This is without doubt one of the greatest orchestrated deceptions in recent medical history. Regrettably, this deception has been perpetrated by our elected representatives.”
He explains, “Despite the rhetoric surrounding embryonic stem cell research, adult stem cell research has great potential to help people, with a record of documented results that excites great hope. Research is achieving substantial results using stem cells acquired from adults and umbilical-cord blood. Sadly, this inspiring research, which has filled countless people with hope, is being attacked by those brandishing alternative agendas, with the rise of embryonic stem cell research usurping the necessary resources for adult stem cell research to continue. It is all the more heartbreaking knowing the frailest and most vulnerable in our society are being used by politicians and pharmaceutical companies to sell their lies. In addition to holding back authentic medical research, choosing an avenue with no foreseeable benefits over documented evidence of success, politicians have also opened the door for anyone to legally assault and destroy human life.”
“No reasonable person will object to offering the best medical treatment necessary to cure people of whatever illness they suffer. The question arises, though: how can anyone in good conscience receive any medicine or cure at the expense of another human life? Accordingly, it must be emphasised that embryos are human life, the very beginning of life. For if life does not begin at conception, at what point can we assume it does begin? Where do we draw the line?”
But some might argue that looking at two different means of obtaining stem cells may increase the chances of a cure. Succar disagrees: “Now that embryonic stem cell research has been given the green light in NSW and Victoria, my optimism for a cure for myself has all but vanished, as valuable resources move away from adult stem cell research, so rich with potential, to embryonic stem cell research. This research is not only plagued by a history of failure and a future clouded with uncertainty, but it further allows the destruction of human life while paving the path to reproductive cloning.”
He concludes, “If politicians in the NSW lower house were not in such a rush to pass the bill, perhaps they would have considered consulting those afflicted by disease and disability, especially those who have been pursuing stem cell research in the hope it may lead to a cure. Alas, the results of every vote produce winners and losers and in the case of the NSW therapeutic cloning bill, if approved by the Legislative Council, the politicians and the pharmaceutical companies will be the winners and those afflicted with illness and disabilities will be the losers.”
Quite so. Perhaps if more brave souls like Succar were wheeled out before Parliamentary committees and allowed to give their side of the story, there would not be such a stampede for unethical and unsuccessful embryo research.