It’s easier to fool the people when a) the subject is already complex and convoluted and b) you spin the rhetoric into tangles of words with a few reassurances thrown in that it’s all legit. ‘Trust me’, is the bottom line, ‘it’s all good.’

No, it’s not, says Justin Barnard at Public Discourse. Not when the newly named director of the National Institutes of Health is reassuring us that embryonic stem cell research guidelines under President Obama will remain similar to those under President Bush. Even though that director is the famed Dr. Francis Collins.

Given his professed faith, one might naturally wonder how Collins can, in good conscience, oversee a government agency that is effectively outsourcing the destruction of human life.

Follow the explanations closely there, because on the surface of it, Collins seems to be saying the guard rails under the Dickey-Wicker Amendment will be upheld, preventing the creation of new stem cell lines. Folks who know Bush did not allow the creation of new lines may not know that private funding provided the means for researchers to do so.

So 700 new lines have been created since Bush issued his policy in August 2001. Collins says (reassuringly, he thinks) that federal funds will still not be allowed to create new lines, but will be allowed to do research on those 700 new lines created since 2001.

Collins’s comments here are remarkable on several different levels. To begin, it is unclear whether Collins has any moral qualms about the wanton destruction of innocent human life given his apparent optimism about the sufficiency of private funds for the doing the federal government’s dirty work. But even if one supposes that he’s not happy about it, his analysis of the difference between the Bush administration policy and the new Obama guidelines is mistaken at best, misleading at worst.

For the August 9, 2001 deadline under the Bush administration was imposed precisely to take away the incentive for private entities to engage in more embryo destruction. Of course, as Collins’s remarks make clear, this did not prevent private entities from doing so. And apparently, they did so at least 700 times. (Of course, who knows how many embryos it actually took to get the 700 lines to which Collins refers!)

And if the Obama guidelines were written so as to allow funding for these 700 lines and only these 700 lines, they would, in that respect, be similar to the Bush guidelines. But the new Obama guidelines do not limit the use of NIH funds exclusively to these existing, additional 700 lines.

So, as Barnard puts it, Collins chose his words carefully in saying federal funds will not be used for creating new lines.

What Collins does not say, however, is that the new NIH guidelines also allow for federal funds to be used in studying new human embryonic stem cell lines that are created (by private entities, of course) beyond the 700 currently in existence. This represents a dramatic shift in policy from the previous Bush administration regulations. And Collins is doing nothing more than engaging in rhetorical subterfuge to suggest otherwise.

Bottom line:

Collins needs to come clean. Either he upholds the dignity of human life or he doesn’t. If he does, and he accepts the nomination to head the NIH, then it seems that he is deeply compromised as a professing evangelical Christian. If he does not, then the evangelical community needs to know. For his appointment to this position has the potential to cause great harm in the way of moral confusion to many unsuspecting evangelicals as long as his views on nascent human life remain veiled behind a cloud of sophistical rhetoric.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....