President Bush had no misgivings about sacrificing 1,600 U.S. soldiers and at least 25,000 Iraqi civilians on the altar of national political interests. But based on his bizarre threat to veto legislation granting federal monies to embryonic stem cell research, he cant accept the idea of using faceless, nameless embryonic cells to possibly cure some of humanitys worst sufferings.
Embryonic stem cell research is the promise that we might coax cells into forming more than 200 cell types found in the human body. This could mean eventual cures for cancer, heart disease and degenerative diseases such as Parkinsons and even Alzheimers. It could also resolve many spinal cord injuries, rendering the wheelchair obsolete.
But more concerned about the welfare of 100-cell blastocysts no larger than a pinhead, the religious right cries foul to all this. The Catholic Church calls embryonic stem cell research destructive and morally offensive. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said its tantamount to destroying living, distinct human beings. Faced with recent advances by South Korean medical researcher Woo Suk Hwang in therapeutic cloning techniques that may one day heal the sick, Bush said he worries about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable. These laughable comments obfuscate the debate, but theyre nothing compared to stem-cell myths the public swallows wholesale. Heres a sample:
Stem cells come from abortions: They can be derived from 4 to 5 week fetuses, but their uses are limited. Researchers instead want access to embryonic stem cells left over from in vitro fertility treatments, which will be thrown out as hospital garbageor, as the religious right would say, killedif not used in research. For some inexplicable reason, the religious right has no problem with in vitro fertilization, which leaves scores of embryos discarded, but recoils at using them to potentially heal the sick.
Bushs 2001 decision to end federal funding of stem cell research left existing stem cell lines open for research: Only 11 existing stem cell lines were left for research, and because they were nutured in mouse cells they cant be used in humans without serious risk.
Adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood are just as good. We dont need embryonic stem cells for research. Medical experts disagree. Stem cells from umbilical cord blood could help treat leukemia and other blood diseases, but thats about it. Embryonic stem cells are superior to adult stem cells, which are more difficult to work with and can cause immuno-incompatability problems once transplanted.
Its Brave New World! This is a Pandoras box of human cloning! These poor saps, our president included, dont understand the difference between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning, which Hwang and the South Koreans used to create stem-cell lines to match a persons genetic makeup. In fact, the South Koreans havent used embryonic stem cells in their research at all, but nuclear-transfer stem cells. Whatever these things are, theyre not people, one Stanford University scientist told MSNBC. South Korean law prohibits human reproductive cloning.
That doesnt mean Bush and the religious right wont still cling to these half truths and myths. What good is the possibility of healing the sick when you can selfishly cling to blind ideology?