Saturday, February 11, 2006

Steele apologizes for stem-cell remark

Actually, the title of the story was "Pol Apologizes for Stem Cell-Nazi Remark", which is a headline that usually manages to grab the attention of American news junkies. The immediate thoughts going through my head as I clicked on the link were 1) who managed to not avoid invoking the Nazis this time, and 2) what did this "pol" actually say? Underlying all that was the fervent wish that politicians on both sides of the aisle would learn to discuss issues without demonizing the other side with Nazi references but that's an old wish for me.

This time the politician is MD Lt. Gov. Steele speaking to the Baltimore Jewish Council. Someone asked him for his stance on stem-cell research. Now, the headline makes you think Steele pounded the desktop and spat out his disdain for his opponents, who must be the reincarnation of the 3rd Reich. Let's see what actually happened:

::::::::Steele had made the remark to the Baltimore Jewish Council on Thursday after speaking about a recent trip to Israel. One of the audience members had asked for his thoughts on stem cell research.

"You, of all folks, know what happens when people decide to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool," Steele said in remarks reported by The (Baltimore) Sun.

"I know that as well in my community, out of our experience with slavery," added Steele, who is black. "And so I'm very cautious when people say this is the best new thing, this is going to save lives."

I happen to disagree with Steele about stem-cell research. There's a lot of research to be done that does not involve the "experiment[ing] on human beings" he references. It's highly likely that the comments reproduced in this story aren't the whole thing, of course, so I'm going to be cautious myself. But I can't believe that anyone being serious on the subject could look at these comments and conclude in any way that Steele was calling anyone a Nazi. He clearly feels strongly on the subject and made use of a reference to a common body of understanding in his audience to illustrate his fears of where stem-cell research could go.

The comments also do not belittle the Holocaust in any way. The concern is in crossing the line that the Nazis did those many years ago in deciding to use human subjects in some very, very unsavory and evil experiments. This is also a crux in my parting ways with Mr. Steele - I do not believe that stem-cell research represents such a crossing of that line. Steele apparently does and, therefore, is concerned about how far it will go. In his own words, he's cautious about calling it a good thing.

His apology over the remark was directed at the director of the Council, Art Abramson. After hearing from Steele, Abramson commented:

::::::::"The Holocaust was a unique event in the history of mankind, and the kinds of experiments that were conducted on human beings by Nazis and their henchmen ... are beyond comparison, and I think the lieutenant governor would agree with that," Abramson said.::::::::

Abramson apparently feels OK with Steele's apology. Personally, I don't buy the argument that anything is totally "beyond comparison" but that's a post for another day. I think, this time, the facts of the matter don't support the contention of the headline and I'm pleased that those involved came to an understanding.