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This was a disturbing show. It's presented as part of an effort to get beyond the disputes over embryonic stem cell research when in fact it plainly privileges one side while largely suppressing the other. I don't think that's intentional, but that doesn't make it less disturbing.

When the show initially raises the question of morality it effectively obscures it by addressing the issue of whether stem cells used for research are derived from abortion but not whether embryos destroyed in the process of developing embryonic stem cell lines are human lives of the kind we must protect just as we do adult human lives, a belief strongly held by many spiritual, intelligent, well informed, thoughtful people of good will. Having quickly disposed of the only moral concern raised at that point, the show then slides together the highly controversial case of embryonic stem cells with the uncontroversial case of adult stem cells, presented with all manner of gauzy wonder, online photos and even uplifting musical cues that underline the emotional impact. The effect is to transfer the uncontroversially positive feelings associated with the one to the other without having to face the central moral problem.

When that central moral issue is finally raised, it's towards the end, after most of the emotional work has been done, and only in an attenuated form. There are no personal stories, no photos, no dark musical cue, and no poetic language lamenting the possibility of the loss of innocent human life at the hands of other humans--apart from the striking term "strip-mine humanity," which still falls short of the full weight of the issue. In effect, raising the issue in that limited way simply allows Ms. Taylor's view that embryonic stem cell research is morally right to be further reinforced with more personal stories and poetic language, topped off with another soaring musical cue. Throughout the show, Tippett is sympathetic with and implicitly supportive of Taylor's views.

This is disturbing on two levels. It isn't that I disagree with Taylor's views as far as they go. In fact I strongly support embryonic stem cell research for some of the reasons she gives. However . . .

On the level of the issue itself, Taylor's talk of stem cells being "tools" given us by Nature is disturbing if one takes seriously, as one must when seeking to get at the deep issues, the possibility that some of those tools derive from the intentional taking of what may be innocent human life. As Tippett acknowledges above, that the embryos are likely to be destroyed anyway doesn't settle the issue of what their human status is, nor does the fact that there are reasons favoring embryonic stem cell research, however beautiful and moving. Not being disturbed by that central question, which has equally important implications for abortion--and most of the show invites and induces us to be the opposite of disturbed--implies some fairly comfortable moral conclusion about it, as does not taking it seriously enough to deal with it as fully and prominently as the wondrous, beautiful results of destroying human embryos. (Research resting on an immoral foundation could of course have wondrous and beautiful results, which fact of life is disturbing in itself.)

On a broader level, as I implied up front it's disturbing that such a grave issue as the possible taking of innocent human life can be so effectively suppressed by honest people of good will, such as Tippett and her staff, even when they apparently think they're being uncommonly open and seeking deeper understanding.