Recently we have seen dis- cussions by the president and first lady and two op-ed pieces about stem cell research, one on Aug. 12 by Richard Cohen and one on Aug. 15 by Michael Kinsley. Only the column by Mr. Kinsley came anywhere close to presenting the true picture of the origin of embryonic stem cells for scientific research, and even his portrayal needs further explanation.

Embryonic stem cells used in stem cell research never were destined to become living human beings. In the process of in vitro fertilization, several ova are removed from the woman and are fertilized by her husband's sperm in an artificial environment. One of these is then implanted in the mother's uterus, and the remaining embryos -- microscopic accumulations of a few dividing cells -- are frozen. When it is clear that pregnancy is established, the extra embryos are thawed and discarded.

No budding human life is lost. In stem cell research, the primitive embryonic cells, rather than being destroyed, are stimulated to produce a more mature cell line that ulti- mately can be used to study and treat disease.

Only the most bizarre perversion of language or science would say a potential human life is being destroyed.

President Bush seems not to understand this, or, in deference to the least sophisticated of his supporters, pretends not to understand it. Either way, I worry that this may be a metaphor for many of his policies.

N. THOMAS CONNALLY

Arlington