A new odor of mendacity oozed from the White House last week when President Bush held a reception for the 21 families who have adopted or given up for adoption frozen embryos.
"Rather than discard these embryos created during in vitro fertilization, or turn them over for research that destroys them, these families have chosen a life-affirming alternative. Twenty-one children here today found a chance for life with loving parents," said Bush.
Thanking Nightlight Christian Adoptions for their work, Bush said, "Nightlight's embryo adoption program has now matched over 200 biological parents with about 140 adoptive families, resulting in the birth of 81 children so far, with many more on the way."
Bush's statement about embryonic adoption accompanied the House's passage of stem-cell legislation that would expand federal funding for research using discarded embryos at fertility clinics, a bill that the president promised to veto.
The bill "would take us across a critical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life," said Bush. "There is no such thing as a spare embryo. Every embryo is unique and genetically complete, like every other human being."
The president can make a moral argument about the potential of embryos without resorting to exaggerated claims that the adoption of embryos represents a viable "alternative."
The 81 children, born through the embryonic adoption services of the Nightlight Christian Adoptions, is a far cry from the 400,000 frozen embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics.
Embryonic adoption is clearly not a viable alternative. To say so is a sleight of hand that steers the debate away from a serious moral discussion about what should be done with frozen embryos that are never used and most often discarded.
Which is the higher moral value—discarding human embryos or using the embryos in medical research that might improve and extend the life of someone suffering from an incurable disease?
Moreover, out of the 140 adoptive parents at Nightlight, what happen to the embryos implanted in the 59 women who have not given birth? Were these embryos destroyed through the process of in vitro fertilization? Does that cross the moral line about which Bush expressed concern?
Of the 81 live births, how many embryos were implanted and lost in order to ensure the successful birth of an adoptive embryo?
If in vitro fertilization results in unused and then discarded embryos, why doesn't Bush advocate a ban on in vitro fertilization, which clearly sets up the approach to the moral line that Bush opposes?
Do biological parents commit murder when they refuse to let their leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization be implanted in strangers but rather allow their embryos to be destroyed?
What is the moral difference between the sacrifice of multiple embryos to ensure successful embryonic adoption of a few and the use of discarded embryos for medical research?
Tough moral discernment demands more than false solutions and photo opportunities.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.