ANALYSIS: Media Watch - Embryonic stem cell research gives life topassionate debate

President Bush is currently weighing whether or not to allow

federal funding to be used for embryonic stem cell research (the cells

extracted from fertilized human eggs).

The various parties have been lobbying the media in order to add to the

debate. The Chicago Tribune (July 11) highlighted how controversial this

area of study is, noting that some think it "may be the most exciting

area of scientific research since the days when men first walked on the

moon," while some members of Congress describe it as "an industry of


The media has covered the debate extensively, saying the stakes are high

for Bush as he ponders his decision. Noted columnist Jack Germond wrote,

"Of all the issues on the table today, the most politically dangerous

for Bush - by light years - is the debate over federal funding of

embryonic stem cell research" (Los Angeles Times, July 22).

More than two-thirds of the coverage highlighted the promise that stem

cell research holds. Stem cells "have the unique ability to form any

type of cell. They offer possible treatments for a range of chronic and

deadly disorders, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, diabetes,

and spinal cord injuries," wrote the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (July

20). And between adult and embryonic stem cells, scientists were said to

report better research results when using the latter.

However, coverage also depicted opponents' concern that embryonic stem

cell research "sanctions the destruction of life and could lead to a

more permissive approach to abortion" (Buffalo News, July 15). But the

media provided less coverage of the arguments of dissenters. Opponents

were often identified as right-to-life advocates and the Catholic

Church, including Pope John Paul II, who met with Bush and voiced his

opposition to such science.

Aside from merely describing the debate, numerous editorials and op-ed

columns argued specifically for and against federal funding of embryonic

stem cell research. Again, proponents outnumbered opponents.

Another criticism of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research

was where it may lead us. The moral and ethical dilemmas of such

research were debated in a number of papers. The Los Angeles Times (July

23) wondered whether embryonic stem cell research could lead us into the

field of eugenics, "breeding to both eliminate undesirable genetic

traits and add desirable traits." The Wall Street Journal (July 12)

described the "slippery slope" argument, which states, "Once you start,

there is no logical place you can draw the line." Consequently, some

thought it best not to even allow the federal funding in the first


Other publications wrote that just because the government is not funding

such research doesn't mean that private companies aren't already

financing it themselves. The media profiled a number of private

companies' recent groundbreaking work in stem cell research. At the same

time, coverage stated that the federal government will not be able to

hold back the pursuit of scientific knowledge. In light of this, a

number of articles urged the federal government to fund this kind of

research in order to gain some kind of regulatory control over its


A number of efforts are being made to compromise on the issue - such as

allowing federal funding but with certain qualifications on which

embryos are used and how they are procured. However, given such

passionate views on the subject, there may not be a compromise that

satisfies everyone.

Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found


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