Special to The Interim

In a speech in the U.S. Senate at the end of July, Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, broke radically both with President Bush and his own past statements by supporting a bill to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

In his speech, Frist said that while embryos are living and fully human, they still ought to be used for experimental research. “I am pro-life. I believe human life begins at conception. It is at this moment that the organism is complete – yes, immature – but complete. An embryo is nascent human life. It’s genetically distinct. And it’s biologically human … And accordingly, the human embryo has moral significance and moral worth. It deserves to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. I also believe that embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported.”

Focus on the Family chairman Dr. James Dobson responded: “Most distressing is that, in making his announcement, Senator Frist calls himself a defender of the sanctity of human life – even though the research he now advocates results, without exception, in the destruction of human life.”

Dobson added, referring to the underlying money motive of the embryo stem cell lobby, “There will never be a sufficient number of new stem-cell lines to satisfy the sometimes-unquenchable thirst for federal money to fund pet projects of researchers. A morally sound line must be drawn at the beginning of this journey into stem-cell research that no human life is sacrificed for possible or proven scientific gain –  period.”

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins also alluded to the profit-oriented biotech industry’s role in Frist’s decision, stating, “It is unfortunate that Senator Frist would capitulate to the biotech industry.”

Human Life International responded by saying that Frist, a medical doctor who claims to be pro-life, should “know better.” HLI said, “Science proves to us that this is distinctly human life and therefore, it should be definitively protected by law. Shifty politicians wanting to bear the pro-life mantle and reap a harvest of pro-life votes are playing politics with sacred realities.”

“Senator Frist has definitively gutted the term ‘pro-life’ of any meaning,” added HLI spokesman, Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer. “If he admits that the embryo is human life, and clearly he does, but at the same says that there are circumstances under which we may legally kill her for our purposes, then how is he pro-life?”

Concerned Women for America followed Rev. Euteneuer’s comments, saying they were “severely disappointed” in Frist’s flip-flop. Calling embryonic stem cell research “a failed science that is structured around the destruction of human life,” CWA also decried the contradiction in Frist’s claim that embryos are human beings who can be used for destructive medical experiments. “Adult stem-cell research offers the promise of cures, not the mere ‘dream’ Frist spoke of today. A ‘dream’ of cures through ESCR is a nightmare for the unborn,” said Lanier Swann, CWA’s director of government relations.

The Centre for Bioethics and Human Dignity, the National Pro-life Action Centre, the Christian Medical Association, the Christian Defence Coalition and even U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R, Oklahoma) all issued stinging criticisms of Frist’s ethical contradiction – and the list of outraged critics continues to grow daily.

“As Nuremberg demonstrated, humanity has no right to benefit from the indignity, suffering and illicit research conducted under the guise of medical progress,” said NPLAC’s executive director, Dr. Paul Chaim Schenck.

The Christian Medical Association executive director, Dr. David Stevens, said the CMA was disappointed in Frist’s endorsement, which would “turn living human beings into commodities for exploitation.”

Washington insiders are speculating that Frist’s support of the bill has significantly increased the chances of it making it through the Senate. Senator Arlen Specter (R, Penn.) said, however, that although there is the required simple majority to pass his bill, 15 more votes are needed to override a veto.

Senator Rick Santorum (R, Penn.) said in television interview, “Without question, the president will veto this. You’re destroying this life for the purpose of research which has questionable value.”

Frist is expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and the loss of support from pro-family organizations could seriously hurt his chances. After the last presidential election, the U.S. political scene was awakened to the importance that U.S. voters place on so-called “conservative” values, including their opposition to abortion and destructive embryo research. Those voters are especially important in the Republican primaries.

Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defence Coalition, warned Frist of the political consequences of his contradictory stand, saying he should not expect support and endorsement from the pro-life community if he votes for embryonic research funding.

National Clergy Council spokesman, Rev. Rob Schenck, called Frist’s position “morally incoherent” and said the senator can “no longer count on our support, nor the support of the wider evangelical or Catholic communities.”

This article originally appeared on on Aug. 2.
– with files from Paul Tuns