One of the more memorable political ads this election is the House Majority PAC's one-minute attack on Coffman for opposing embryonic stem cell research.
Reporter Chris Vanderveen fact checked the ad, as part of 9News' admirable "Truth Test" series, and he found it to be true, but he mocked it for a severe lack of context.
I was surprised at this, because, I thought the ad was pretty straight forward. Too dramatic for my taste, but the ad isn't targeting me (or the three people who read my blog).
The basic fact is that Coffman opposes embryonic stem cell research, which has huge medical potential.
The ad states: Embryonic stem cell research could save lives, maybe yours or your family's, someone you love. Only Congressman Coffman says no.
9News analysis: "This is a statement in dire need of context," says Vanderveen. "While the National Institute of Health, among others, says stem cell research has huge potential, the medical community says it will take time."
Okay, it might take time before embryonic stem cells might save the life of someone you love, but so what? Coffman is still opposing research that could save lives.
To Vanderveen's credit, his piece quotes a 9News Medical Expert John Torres who confirmed this:
"The potential is huge, because stem cells can do so many things, at least we think they can, but it's going to take a lot of time to figure this out. We're talking a decade or two before we get to the point where it's actually usable."
Vanderveen goes on to paraphrase a comment from the Coffman campaign:
A [Coffman] spokesperson says, [Coffman] isn't against stem cell research in general, just embryonic, because the cells are harvested from embryos and he says that is a human life.
The Coffman campaign's statement is in greater need of context than the ad itself!
Why does Coffman think the cells flashed across the TV screen constitute human life?
As a backer of the personhood amendment, Coffman believes that human life begins at the fertilized-egg or "zygote" stage.
Personhood supporters like Coffman aim to codify this belief in law, so that the rest of us would have no choice but to adopt Coffman's position, which includes a ban on all abortion and on embryonic stem cell research.
That's because the "blastocysts" used in embryonic stem-cell research consist of about 150 cells formed four-five days after a human sperm has entered an egg. Many of the embryos used in research are donated by fertility clinics that ask women if they'd like to donate excess embryos to research. No pregnancy, as defined by the mainstream medical community, has occurred when a blastocyst forms, because it hasn't even entered a woman's uterus, much less implanted successfully.
So Coffman's fringe position on abortion is linked to his opposition to embryonic stem-cell research.
Vanderveen concludes his Truth Test with the following comment:
While the Democratic SuperPac is correct in its point about Coffman, Congress has a limited role at best when it comes to the future of stem cell research. And it isn't clear it can cure all of the issues raised in this ad.
Tell that to Rep. Diana DeGette, who's made the advancement of embryonic stem cell research a focus of her career.
DeGette managed to push bipartisan legislation through Congress, expanding embryonic stem cell research, only to have it vetoed twice by President George Bush. Even though she lost, her efforts clearly kept pressure on Bush, who may well have stopped all embryonic stem cell research had it not been for Congress. (Recall the debate about cell lines.)
"As someone who just passed a bill through Congress twice to extend ethical stem-cell research, and was relying on every single vote I could find from both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle, I would say Congress had a pretty big role," DeGette told me.
"And if, heaven forbid, Mitt Romney was elected and reversed the executive order on stem cell research, Congress would be back in the middle of it again."
Barack Obama passed an executive order reversing Bush's ban on embryonic stem cell research, much like DeGette's legislation would have done.
"Because of President Obama's executive order, there have been several studies that have gone to human-subject trials because of allowing research on embryonic stem cells," DeGette told me.
DeGette is currently working on a bill that Coffman would almost certainly oppose. According to DeGette's website, the bill, introduced with a Republican co-sponsor, proposes the following, among other things:
The ethical requirements defined by the bill mandate that stem cells be derived from human embryos donated from in vitro fertilization clinics that were created for reproductive purposes, but are in excess of clinical needs. The donated embryos would never be implanted in a woman, and would otherwise be discarded. The individuals who had sought reproductive treatment to begin with, must donate the embryos with written informed consent and without any financial or other inducements.
"Researchers say they need all the forms of stem cells to do this research," DeGette said. "Different types of cells show different applications for different types of diseases. Parkinson's and diabetes and nerve regeneration are diseases for which stem cell research has shown tremendous promise."
If a candidate like Mike Coffman says, I don't support embryonic stem cell research but I support other types, that's not supporting the full range of ethical stem cell research, which could block off research into some diseases and would impede the progress of the research in general.
In its Truth Test on this topic, 9News should have told us more about the ramifications of Coffman's position. So there it is, if you want it.