Rod Driver

Providence Sunday Journal, Aug. 8, 2004

Bakst propagates myth of Langevin's 'courage'


IN HIS COLUMN of July 31, 2001, The Journal's M. Charles Bakst praised U.S. Rep. James Langevin (D.-R.I.) "for having the insight and fortitude to back embryonic stem-cell research, a position that incurs the wrath of the anti-abortion lobby that is a significant source of his political support."

What Charlie didnít know (and I didnít know until the following day) was that on the day Bakst's column appeared, Representative Langevin was actually voting -- four times -- to ban the cloning of human embryonic stem cells for therapy or research!

Don't take my word for it. Look up roll calls 300, 302, 303 and 304. Langevin even helped defeat a proposal of Rep. Jim Greenwood (R.-PA) to allow cloning for medical research, with safeguards against cloning for human reproduction. (Perhaps Langevin didnít understand the question; most representatives were out of the chamber while the issue was being discussed and had to be summoned back to vote.)

In the following days, I searched the Journal in vain for an apology, or at least a correction, by Mr. Bakst.

Then 10 months later (June 4, 2002), to my amazement, Bakst said it again. He praised Langevin for his willingness "to push for stem-cell research, thereby incurring the wrath of a major ally, the anti-abortion lobby." Bakst proclaimed that Langevinís opponent "should have one tenth the courage Langevin has shown in politics."

Stem-cell research came up again in the House of Representatives on Feb. 27, 2003. This time Langevin did vote for a Greenwood amendment. But when that failed, he joined the majority in supporting HR 534: a draconian ban on all human cloning, including therapeutic cloning. (See roll call 39.)

But Mr. Bakst doesnít want to waste his time checking the Congressional Record or the Congressional Quarterly or On July 26, 2004 he gushed again that Jim Langevin "parts company with the Ďpro-lifeí forces on the stem-cell topic."

The next day, Representative Langevin introduced Ron Reagan at the Democratic National Convention. And Reagan spoke of the hope that someday we would be able to modify donor embryonic stem cells using the DNA of a person suffering from Parkinsonís disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lymphoma or spinal-cord injuries. Those modified stem cells would be grown in the laboratory and eventually injected into the patient with no fear of rejection. He spoke of a patient having a "personal biological repair kit."

Reagan criticized those "who would stand in the way of this remarkable future." Either he didnít know Langevinís record or he was too polite to mention it.

But suppose the bill Langevin supported (HR 534) someday becomes law. Then cloning for therapeutic purposes will be a crime. The bill declares it unlawful even to import "any product derived from" an embryo produced by human cloning. So if an American went abroad for embryonic stem-cell therapy, he would be subject to 10 years in prison upon his return.

Does M. Charles Bakst ever apologize for his blunders?

Now Journal columnist Mark Patinkin has picked up the myth from Bakst's columns. On Sunday, July 31, on page one, Patinkin refered to Langevin's role at the Democratic convention as "showing that a pro-life congressman like Langevin is in favor of [stem-cell research]."

Donít expect Representative Langevin to offer a correction. He has the best of both worlds. Foes of stem-cell research learn how he really votes from their lobbyists. The rest of us get the opposite impression from the newspaper.

Rod Driver is a former Rhode Island state representative and a professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Rhode Island. He ran against Mr. Langevin for Congress in 2000 as an independent.