Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | July 25, 2006

Pro-life means supporting embryonic stem cell research

“I do not believe that a frozen embryo in a fertility clinic freezer constitutes human life. … Being pro-life involves helping the living. Regenerative medicine is pro-life and pro-family.” ~ Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

Last week, President George W. Bush used his first veto to quash legislation that expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Bush vetoed H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, which legalized federal funding of research using donated embryos that would otherwise be discarded.

Currently, thanks to a Bush executive order, only 72 lines of embryonic stem cells derived before Aug. 9, 2001 can be used in federally funded embryonic stem cell research.

Scientists say that only a few – and possibly none – of those lines are usable in their research.

Bush’s order eliminated a major source of funding for research that very well could find treatments for spinal cord injuries, ALS, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, stroke and a host of other conditions. An estimated 100 million Americans could benefit from the results of embryonic stem cell research.

Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter has proposed calling those who support embryonic stem cell research “pro-cure” and those who oppose it “anti-cure.” Polls show that 70 percent of Americans are in the pro-cure camp.

Californians support embryonic stem cell research with their tax dollars, approving a $3 billion bond measure in 2004 to fund it.

Prominent pro-life Republicans like Senators Bill Frist, Arlen Specter, Kay Bailey Hutchison, John McCain, Bob Bennett and Trent Lott support embryonic stem cell research.

This research is so promising because embryonic stem cells are pluripotent – meaning they can become any type of cell. Scientists hope to learn to control stem cell development so that they become a particular type of cell – perhaps spinal cord cells for paralyzed patients or insulin-producing cells for diabetes patients.

The reason that embryonic stem cell research is so controversial is that removing stem cells destroys the embryo.

But let’s be clear: These frozen, soon-to-be-discarded embryos are unimplanted, smaller than the dot atop this i, lack brains and central nervous systems, and are not sentient.

Those in the anti-cure camp believe that unimplanted embryos are human life. Many others believe that they are only potential human life.

And let’s be consistent: If it’s wrong to destroy an embryo for research, then it’s wrong to create extra, unwanted embryos during fertility treatments or to destroy embryos because they’re using clinic freezer space. Both happen regularly at in-vitro fertilization clinics, but Bush isn’t pushing anti-IVF legislation. No plank in the Republican Party platform demands an IVF ban.

It’s the acorn or oak tree argument: Is an acorn an oak tree or a potential oak tree? Or, as Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, put it during the Senate’s debate on this topic, the egg and bald eagle argument. Watching clips of Brownback’s speech reminded me of the Monty Python song “Every Sperm Is Sacred.”

But, as the song notes, many people really believe that. Because they do, should we ban non-reproductive sex? After all, sperm and eggs are potential human lives. Consistency seems to demand such a ban.

With Republican majorities in the House and Senate, until H.R. 810 reached his desk, Bush hadn’t seen a bill in five-and-a-half years that he didn’t like, signing more than 1,100 consecutive bills into law.

But when it comes to relieving the suffering of a hundred million fully formed, sentient, unequivocally human Americans who suffer from debilitating and fatal conditions, Bush says the rights of non-sentient unimplanted embryos are more important.

Here’s how members of the House of Representatives whose districts include parts of South County voted on H.R. 810:

• Richard Pombo, R-Tracy: No on the bill, no to override Bush’s veto
• Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose: Yes on the bill, yes to override Bush’s veto
• Mike Honda, D-Campbell: Yes on the bill, yes to override Bush’s veto

Each is seeking re-election this November.

Both of California’s Senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, voted for H.R. 810. Feinstein is seeking re-election in November.

We’ve lost years and potentially countless lives due to the delays in embryonic stem cell research caused by Bush’s executive order. The best way to speed this research and tap its vast promise is to vote for pro-cure House and Senate candidates this November.

“Science has presented us with a hope called stem cell research, which may provide our scientists with answers that have so long been beyond our grasp. … We have lost so much time already, and I just really can’t bear to lose any more.” ~ Former First Lady Nancy Reagan in 2004

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