Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | February 21, 2004

Who’s really peddling ‘false hope’ on stem cell research?

I’m not much of a gambler, but I’d be willing to bet that every person in South County has a friend or relative who has had one of these conditions:

• Cancer
• Parkinson’s disease
• Alzheimer’s disease
• Spinal cord injuries
• Lupus
• ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
• Stroke
• Burns
• Heart disease
• Diabetes
• Osteoarthritis
• Rheumatoid arthritis

What do these conditions have in common? They’re all on the list of conditions that scientists believe embryonic stem cell research holds promise for treating.

But, don’t listen to educated, respected scientists in the embryonic stem cell research trenches. Instead, listen to First Lady Laura Bush.

“I know that embryonic stem cell research is very preliminary right now and the implication that cures for Alzheimer’s are around the corner is just not right and it’s really not fair to people who are watching a loved one suffer with this disease,” Laura Bush said earlier this month.

Of course stem cell research is “very preliminary” right now. It’s going to remain “very preliminary” as long as Laura Bush’s husband’s ban on using federal funds for any research conducted on embryonic stem cell lines that do not meet his criteria is in place. An estimated 19 lines meet President Bush’s criteria.

Scientists have raised questions about the quality – specifically regarding safety and genetic diversity – of the embryonic stem cell lines that meet federal funding criteria. As long as the major source of health research funding – the federal government – is unavailable for good research, of course embryonic stem cell research is “very preliminary right now” and that’s how it will remain.

Federal funding is vital to making progress in this field. Why? Take type I (or juvenile-onset) diabetes, which has affected both my family and friends. Many companies, such as manufacturers of insulin, syringes, testing supplies and more, make handsome profits by treating this chronic condition.

According to one Web site, the average diabetic incurs more than $13,200 a year in health care costs, compared to $2,500 for a nondiabetic. Call me cynical, but I doubt most of those companies are in a hurry to find a cure for diabetes. A cure for diabetes would kill their cash cows.

We need the federal government to fund research to cure chronic conditions that private companies aren’t interested in curing. For diabetes and a host of other conditions, there is great promise in stem cell research.

I’m disgusted by Laura Bush’s claim that stem cell research advocates are giving “false hope” to families of Alzheimer’s patients and, I guess, to families of anyone who suffers from these terrible conditions.

False hope is pretending that 19 low-quality embryonic stem cell lines are as good as a wide range of embryonic stem cell lines for research. False hope is pretending, as many embroynic stem cell research opponents do, that adult stem cells are as good as embryonic stem cells for research.

Anyone who is opposed to embryonic stem cell research also ought to be vehemently opposed to vitro fertilization, which creates many extra embryos that are routinely discarded. But I don’t see that plank in the Republican party platform, and I haven’t heard President Bush propose a constitutional amendment to ban in vitro fertilization.

Apparently under Bush’s policy, infertile couples can create and discard embryos with abandon, but the estimated 100 million Americans who suffer from diseases that might be cured by embryonic stem cell research should quietly continue to suffer and fuel the health care industry with their never-ending chronic disease treatments.

Actually, those chronic disease treatments do have an end: When chronic disease finally kills patients. Since Aug. 9, 2001, when President Bush enacted his ban on most federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, “more than 4 million Americans have died from diseases that embryonic stem cell research has the potential to treat,” according to a letter signed by more than 140 patient organizations, scientific societies, universities, and foundations urging President Bush to change his shortsighted policy.

Quashing hope, wasting time, ignoring suffering: That’s the result of President Bush’s policy on embryonic stem cell research. And that, Mrs. Bush, is not fair to hundreds of millions of patients and their friends and families.

I can’t think of a more local issue in this year’s presidential race.

“In a few months, we will face a choice. … We can choose between … true compassion and mere ideology. … Whatever else you do come Nov. 2nd, I urge you, please, cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research.” – Ron Reagan’s July 27, 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention

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Responses

  1. […] I’ve written columns about controversial topics – from same-sex marriage to stem cell research to police station price tags to an overreacting sheriff’s deputy – I’ve often felt that I’m […]


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