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The Democrats' New Litmus Test

Tom Vilsack is running for president--and toward human cloning.

11:00 AM, Jan 23, 2006 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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THREE YEARS AGO, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack signed a law banning all human cloning (both for research and for reproduction). But he has just shifted his position 180 degrees, calling upon the state's legislature to legalize human cloning for biomedical research. But rather than just admit he was wrong to sign the original bill, he has instead lied about the current state of human cloning science (somatic cell nuclear transfer), and then bootstrapped this own false assertion as justification for his change of heart.

This is what Vilsack's said in his 2006 state-of-the-state address to rationalize his altered political position:

A strong community embraces change. New discoveries require new approaches. One area that calls for a new approach is the area of medical research. Several years ago we limited medical research involving nuclear cell transplants [cloning] at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. At the time we never dreamt that new treatments dependent upon such transplants would be developed so quickly. Well, they have been, and as a result we should revisit our ban on nuclear cell transplants. We should remove the restrictions and allow life saving treatments to be administered to Iowans here in Iowa rather than forcing them to leave our state. A strong community would never do otherwise. [emphasis added]

This is worse than baloney: There have been zero "new treatments" for humans developed using "nuclear cell transplants" since Vilsack signed Iowa's cloning ban. None. Zip. Zilch.

Perhaps Vilsack was referring to the work of Woo-suk Hwang when he asserted that there have been substantial scientific advances in human cloning as a medical treatment. Hwang, readers will recall, astounded the world last year when he claimed to have successfully created cloned, patient-specific embryonic stem cell lines. This "breakthrough" was touted internationally as making "therapeutic cloning" a realistic prospect. But even so, actual human treatments using "nuclear cell transplants" were still considered many years in the future.

Now we know that Hwang is a charlatan and that his research "breakthroughs" were utterly fraudulent. Hwang failed to create any cloned embryonic stem cell lines; to date, no other researcher in the world has done so, either.

Which means that directly contrary to Vilsack's assertions, nuclear transplant treatments have not developed "quickly." Indeed, they have not developed at all. Which means that no Iowan--nor any other person in the world--has been prevented from receiving "life saving treatments" due to the law he signed three years ago.

WHAT MADE VILSACK think he could get away with telling such a big lie in such a prominent forum? Vilsack probably realized that the mainstream media is in the tank for therapeutic cloning. The Associated Press merely quoted Vilsack's statement and then boosted it by interviewing state biotech researchers who support the governor's new position, none of whom made any attempt to correct his fallacious assertion.

Ditto the Des Moines Register's story (written a few days before the speech) that reported the governor's new position on human cloning. But if it got the science wrong, at least the Register got the motivation for Vilsack's change of hear right:

The [cloning] ban put Vilsack, who has taken steps toward running for president in 2008, on the record as favoring limits to stem cell research and at odds with the positions of a number of Democrats considered potential presidential candidates. For instance, 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, supported therapeutic cloning during the campaign last year. Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, and Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, are considered potential 2008 candidates. Likewise, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has co-sponsored legislation that would allow federal funding for therapeutic cloning. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner also supports therapeutic cloning, spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said.

So Vilsack's switch represents his recognition that the Democrat party has another litmus test that its national candidates must pass: Support for the legalization of human cloning.

WE HAVE SEEN this kind of enforced political lockstep before in the Democrat party. While there are many pro-life Democrats at the local and state levels, to make it on the national stage, Democrats must become pro-choice.

Time will tell whether becoming known as "the Human Cloning party," will help or hurt the Democrats. But there seems little doubt that advocacy by its most prominent members on behalf of cloning as a medical treatment to date has been rife with factual falsehoods and reckless hype. Remember when Ron Reagan told the Democratic National Convention that cloning would permit each of us to each have a "self repair kit" waiting for use at our local hospitals? And when Senator John Edwards outrageously claimed in 2004 that a vote for John Kerry would allow paralyzed people to get out of their wheelchairs and walk? Vilsack's lies are merely the latest addition to this sorry list.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His website is www.wesleyjsmith.com.