Who Speaks for the Disabled?

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.


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15 Replies to “Who Speaks for the Disabled?”

  1. This is a real tragedy. The media in general has taken a very clear side on this issue. All to often, the media portrays an issue so that it will make a good story, that will make money, rather than doing what is right. This is also clearly demonstrated by the fact that a Catholic, namely Cardinal George Pell was criticised heavily for taking a stand against this unethical research. He was portrayed as if he had absolutely no justification for what he said, despite the extraordinary severity of the issue. Innocent human life should be protected. It is hypocritical that the same media which often states we should care for the vulnerable and oppressed in our society could react in such a way.
    Matthew Mulvaney

  2. Succar wouldn’t possibly be of a religious sentiment close to yours Bill would he?
    Chris Mayer

  3. Thanks Chris

    But so what if he is? Just what are you suggesting? That this disqualifies him from speaking out? Are you suggesting that the overwhelming majority of Australians who are not atheists like yourself should have no voice on the public issues of the day?

    Or are you suggesting that he might somehow be biased because of his religious orientation? If so, can I suggest that atheists are every bit as biased with their faith-based, even religious, worldview.

    And besides, the main point of my article was how the media often manipulates complex ethical debates by pitting emotive, personal stories over against rational argument.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. Bill, I asked a *question*. Maybe you could actually let me make a point, before trying to ‘shoot me down’.

    I think the man’s religious views are a rather important side of the story, which you have left out, that is all. It seemed like a glaring omission.

    Chris Mayer

  5. Thanks again Chris

    But of course there is a difference between an honest question and a rhetorical question. You and I both know that. And I was covering up nothing, as I provided the link to the article in question, which did disclose where the author was coming from.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Bill,

    Might I point out that the “overwhelming majority of Australians who are not atheists” don’t have a singular view on stem cell research. In fact the polls suggest that about 80% of Australians don’t accept that an embryo is a human life and are in favour of embryonic stem-cell research.

    The problem that Chris pointed out was that the individual in this story started from the presupposition that embryonic stem-cell research is evil, but tried to build a case by arguing the medical science. This is no different from the creationists who start from the assumption that the Biblical version of origins is correct, then try to make the scientific evidence fit.

    If adult stem cells could indeed deliver the results claimed, why would medical researchers bother with embryonic stem cells?

    It also seems disingenuous that some people will argue against making use of embryos to create stem cell lines for research, but show little concern about the destruction of excess embryos created for IVF purposes.

    By all means argue your case on ethical grounds, but don’t try to confuse this with the scientific debate.

    Steve Angelino, WA

  7. Thanks Steve

    Please spare us the old furphy, ‘I have science on my side, you only have morality’. This is simply a false dilemma, as I have pointed out previously. And what are you suggesting? That you are in favour of amorality? That sounds about right for most atheists. And finally, you are the one being anti-scientific here. Please inform all of us how many human cures and therapies have come about by embryonic stem cell research, Steve. Now tell us how many have come about by adult stem cell research. If you do not know the answer to those two questions, then I suggest you ease up on the anti-Christian zealotry, and start becoming a bit more scientific. Sadly, it is crusading atheistic fundamentalism and ideology, not science, that is pushing folk like you to back a method that has absolutely zero runs on the board to date.

    The argument against ESC research is not that it is ‘evil’ (a term never used by Succar), but that it is not working and not necessary. And who says we are not concerned about surplus embryos? As is so often the case, when one weeds out all the straw men, red herrings and other logical fallacies in the ‘argumentation’ of atheists, there is hardly anything of substance left..

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  8. Steve, relying on a poll to decide if an embryo is ‘human’ or not is hardly scientific.
    We should really look a the facts – the biology and medical textbooks agree that life starts at conception, so an embryo is a tiny human.
    Even Alan Trounson, one of the main proponents of embryo stem cell research, in an interview on Lateline in 2002, admitted that the embryo is indeed HUMAN!
    But, he says, we can kill it anyway – because we already kill other humans!
    His quote:
    “PROFESSOR ALAN TROUNSON: It’s clearly human. We treat it with respect, but we have laws which say that we have to destroy it.”….
    TONY JONES: Taking the points David van Gend has raised, does that actually bother you ethically if this is a human entity?
    “PROFESSOR ALAN TROUNSON: No, it doesn’t bother me at all, because the Federal Parliament, sorry, the regulatory bodies have just approved the morning-after pill, which would prevent implantation, we use the IUD, that prevents implantation, we’re allowed to have abortion on demand.
    “I mean, what suddenly tells us that the five- or six-day embryo is outside the boundaries of what we already accept that we can destroy or not allow to implant?
    “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
    Ref: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/stories/s649062.htm
    Using embryos does kill human life – and there is no cure in sight in the future – but more than 70 from adult stem cells. See http://www.stemcellresearch.org
    Jenny Stokes

  9. Jenny,

    I don’t think science can decide whether an embryo is “a human”, as opposed to “human”, but properly conducted polls can give a pretty good idea of public opinion on the matter.

    Of course an embryo is “human”, in the sense that it contains human genetic material, but so does every other cell in our bodies.

    We reserve the word “kill” for sentient beings, so Trounson’s use of the word “destroy” is far more appropriate in relation to cells. But even that language is too strong, because the cell line lives on.

    But you could take his analogy further and campaign to have the ordinary contraceptive pill banned, because one of its modes of action is to act as an abortifacient. There wouldn’t be too many people, especially women, who would agree to such a ban, even those who oppose abortion or embryonic stem cell research.

    As for the lack of results so far, that is because not much research has been done yet in this area. That is why the ethical debates are happening at this time.

    The protections and safeguards that have been built into the legislation in Australia allow for research to proceed in an ethical environment, as does all medical research in this country. We shouldn’t judge new areas of research on the lack of “cures” to date, otherwise all medical advances would be halted before they began.

    Steve Angelino, WA

  10. Dear Bill,
    I would like to know where the statistics that 80% of the population favours ESC use come from. Anyone I talk to who has done any research on the question seems to be of the opinion that we do not need to go there at all with the many successes of ASCs. They would agree with Anthony Succar that the research dollars being ploughed into that research denies money to research which has potential beyong imagining in the future. It is rarely publicised that the main motive for ESC endorsement by researchers is lucrative whereby the pharmaceutical companies and other sellers of stem cell lines will benefit financially in a big way. Premier Bracks had no sooner passed the legislation in Victoria than he was travelling overseas to find investment money and markets.
    I totally agree that the ‘bleeding hearts’ image is intentionally used in this area to great effect. Also journalists deliberately refer to stem cell research rather that Adult stem cell research when they report on new success stories in the media. To kill some humans for the benefit of other humans must always be repugnant.
    Nola Drum

  11. Thanks Steve

    But you are wrong throughout, and your morality is quite worrying. Should we really decide who is really human by opinion polls? That is basically what the Germans did in the 1930s and 40s. Your morality and Hitler’s seem the same here.

    And it is OK to kill non-sentient human beings? So when you are in a deep sleep or a coma, it is OK for me to kill you, right?

    And all pro-lifers do oppose any so-called contraceptive when in fact it acts as an abortifacient.

    Not enough research yet? But it has been going on for decades now. (And you still have not answered my question about the success of the two methods – I am afraid your ignorance is still showing here).

    Finally, your naïve trust in ethical guidelines in Australia simply shows how selective you are. In every other area, you remain the quintessential skeptic. But here you just blindly take whatever spin is offered by the pro-embryo researchers. You might as well argue that tobacco ethics are just fine here, because it is in the safe hands of the tobacco industry.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. Steve Angelino:

    The protections and safeguards that have been built into the legislation in Australia allow for research to proceed in an ethical environment, as does all medical research in this country.

    No, these alleged safeguards are to make pushing the ethical boundaries more palatable to the public, whether to end life near the beginning (abortion, ESCR) or the end (assisted suicide, euthanasia). But once the ending-life legislation has been passed, these “safeguards” will be attacked as too restrictive, and be abolished or just ignored.

    The euthanasia putscher Kathryn Tucker, in a speech at Seattle Pacific University 12 July 1999, said the following about the allegedly safeguarded Oregon assisted suicide law:

    The Oregon measure … became overly restrictive. It has a 15-day waiting period … a 15-day waiting period would be struck down as unduly burdensome. … But in the legislative forum, you need to have measures that convince people that it’s suitably protective, so you see a 15-day waiting period.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  13. Steve Angelino

    If adult stem cells could indeed deliver the results claimed, why would medical researchers bother with embryonic stem cells?

    If embryonic stem cells were so great, then why do researchers need funding to be coerced from taxpayers. If ESCR could even cure baldness, there would be guaranteed voluntary funding.

    Adult (or more precisely, somatic) stem cells really have delivered proven cures. So the putschers of ESCR are more interested in dehumanizing the unborn than finding cures. This is why the MMM has imposed a virtual blackout on the real successes of somatic stem cells.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

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