In his January 12 Washington Post column, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer again distorted former Sen. John Edwards' (D-NC) 2004 comments on stem cell research, claiming that Edwards "starkly and egregiously" claimed that if Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) were elected president in 2004, "Christopher Reeve will walk again."
Christopher Reeve, an actor and advocate for embryonic stem cell research, died on October 10, 2004, nine years after he was paralyzed from the neck down in an equestrian accident. At a campaign event that day, Edwards said:
EDWARDS: Christopher Reeve just passed away. And America just lost a great champion for this cause. Somebody who is a powerful voice for the need to do stem cell research and change the lives of people like him, who have gone through the tragedy. Well, if we can do the work that we can do in this country -- the work we will do when John Kerry is president -- people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk. Get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.
As Media Matters for America noted at the time, several conservative media figures, apparently spurred by Internet gossip Matt Drudge, distorted Edwards' statement by omitting Edwards' words about "the work we can do in this country" on stem cell research, and suggesting that Kerry's election alone would have prompted people like Reeve to walk. Drudge's website blared: "Edwards: 'When John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk. Get up out of that wheelchair and walk again'..."
Krauthammer furthered this distortion of Edwards' remarks in his January 12 column, claiming that Edwards promised Reeve himself would walk again, when, in fact, Edwards was referring to "people like Christopher Reeve," those who suffer from illnesses or injuries that stem cells might prove effective in treating. Krauthammer wrote:
When President Bush announced in August 2001 his restrictive funding decision for federal embryonic stem cell research, he was widely attacked for an unwarranted intrusion of religion into scientific research. His solicitousness for a 200-cell organism -- the early embryo that Bush declared should not be destroyed to produce a harvest of stem cells -- was roundly denounced as reactionary and anti-scientific. And cruel to boot. It was preventing a cure for thousands of people with hopeless and terrible diseases, from diabetes to spinal cord injury. As John Edwards put it most starkly and egregiously in 2004: If John Kerry becomes president, Christopher Reeve will walk again.
Also, while Krauthammer claimed that he "disagreed" with Bush's 2001 decision to prohibit federal funding for research on new embryonic stem cell lines created from "fertility-clinic embryos that are discarded and are going to die anyway," he nonetheless "applauded his insistence that some line must be drawn, that human embryos are not nothing and that societal values, not just the scientific imperative, should determine how they are treated." According to Krauthammer, a "line" was necessary because "many stem cell research advocates" -- none of whom he identified -- take the position "that embryos are discardable tissue with no more intrinsic value than a hangnail or an appendix." He went on to attack the Democratic stem cell research bill that passed the House on January 11 by a vote of 253-174, claiming that it "erase[d]" the "line" Bush drew in 2001, which "rescue[d] us from the moral dilemmas of embryonic destruction."
Unmentioned by Krauthammer, however, was the fact that the House-passed bill requires that to be eligible for federal funding, stem cell lines must be created from fertility clinic embryos that would otherwise be discarded -- the exact position Krauthammer claimed to support. According to the bill:
B. Ethical Requirements -- Human embryonic stem cells shall be eligible for use in any research conducted or supported by the Secretary if the cells meet each of the following:
(1) The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.
(2) Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded.