No Stem Cell Treatment Pledge Signers In Right to Die Dilemma

Washington, D.C., June 29, 2007 -- Several of the small group of stem cell research opponents who signed the controversial "No Stem Cell Treatment Pledge" last fall are now embroiled in a legal dilemma since contracting various terminal diseases, all of which can be easily cured using medical procedures developed through embryonic stem cell research.

The group, known as the "Life Culture Five", have refused treatment, but a federal court is now deliberating whether to save their lives against their will, given that allowing them to die according to their wishes would set what conservatives fear could be a dangerous "right to die" precedent.

The "No Stem Cell Treatment Pledge" was put forward by several key religious and government representatives of the radical right, including the Reverend Pat Robertson, Richard M. Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, Rep. Dan Lungren of California, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, and House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois. Signatories of the pledge, including the pledge's sponsors, signed an explicit "life vow" to refuse any medical treatment that may be derived from human stem cell research, even if such treatment were the only method available to cure or alleviate a life-threatening illness.

Since the pledge's inception, five signatories, whom the pledge's sponsors asked not be identified, have succumbed to various illnesses that are currently only treatable using therapies developed through embryonic stem cell research. According to the terms of their pledge, they are therefore bound to refuse treatment and, in all likelihood, die.

This has positioned the "Life Culture Five" firmly on the horns of an unusual legal and ethical dilemma, as they now find themselves on what, for the majority of the group, is the wrong side of the aisle in a "Right to Die" case.

"It's really rather ironic," said Dr. Lily Westmoreland, Professor Emeritus of Ethics at Stanford University. "Virtually everyone who signed the No Stem Cell pledge was also a vociferous opponent of Terry Schiavo's right to die when that case flared up in Congress. Every single one of the senators and congressmen who signed the pledge also voted to block the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube. In other words, they voted to continue to provide forced medical treatment that would have kept her alive in a vegetative state, in direct conflict with her own clearly expressed wishes. Now they themselves are trying to be allowed to refuse medical treatment that would keep them alive. What we have here is a bunch of Terry Schiavos in suits who have voted to deny their own rights."

While the legislation pushed by these and other congressional conservatives did not pass in time to block Terry Schiavo's right to die, political pundits believe the "Life Culture Five" situation may result in a new push for a federal ruling on related issues.

"I think what we may be looking for is a more finessed set of guidelines," said Peter Pupert, spokesman for the group that sponsored the No Stem Cell Pledge. "We believe in a culture of life, that every life can and should be saved if it is medically possible, whether that life wants to be saved or not. However, the Life Culture Five presents what we think may be an exception. We'd like to amend the legislation to include a 'if the saving of that life would not conflict with either prevailing or the individual's moral or religious beliefs' caveat. That should let this group slip through, while still blocking any more Schiavo cases."

Right to Die exponents believe the solution is a good deal simpler:

"Religious beliefs have nothing to do with it," said Monroe Campbell, a prominent Right to Die advocate. "A primary purpose of the Constitution is to define that the federal government has no right to directly meddle in an individual's right to do what he or she wants to with his or her life. Congress had no business interfering in the Schiavo case, and it has no business interfering in the Life Culture Five's case. In the case of Schiavo, the absurd flurry of photo ops and speechifying by conservatives we all witnessed was nothing other than a transparent sop to the religious right."

"In this case, there's no such opening, since the religious right would be forced to support both sides of the case. If nothing else, this simply illustrates the poverty of their contradictory and opportunistic pseudo-morality."

By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor

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