Stem Cell Veto: A Cause for Hope

Did they see it coming — the people who died at Auschwitz, or in the hands of the Inquisition, or on Cambodia’s killing fields? Or did they refuse to see it — believing instead what they chose to believe, choosing to trust, to wait, to hope — only to run when continued denial was futile, then die when there was nowhere left to run?

This week, the U.S. Senate debated “stem cells.” Never before have politicians presented the practical facts of these issues so clearly. Never before have so many uttered lies as truth to urge the public to misplace its medical hopes.

“The question is,” asked Sen. Tom Coburn, M.D., (R.-Okla.), “do we want to do what we need to do to treat or cure the patient?”

Ignore this point and the Senate’s seemingly conflicting stem cell claims make little sense. Consider it and they fall into place.

Keep in mind that sickness and disability serve as traditional pretexts for public funding of basic science — that non-profit foundations depend on the disabled and dying to sell the public “hope” — that disease and disability generate more than $500 billion in global prescription drug revenues — that according to James Battey, chairman of the NIH Stem Cells Advisory Committee, the business of science is not “producing widgets,” but to “explore the unknown” — then put yourself in the place of those promoting embryonic stem cells and ask Coburn’s question:

“Do we want to do what we need to do to treat or cure the patient?”

It is inconceivable that any rational human with an ounce of humanity could say “no” in reply to this question. Yet, 62 U.S. senators said “yes” to H.R. 810, thereby promoting the diversion of research resources and the public’s attention away from practical paths to cures, fueling the myth that moral issues block miracle cures.

In vetoing this bill President Bush remained firm in his principles. He also remained true to his oath to “Serve, Defend, and Protect” not only the American Constitution, but also her people, including Americans who look to science with hope.

Tragically, many Americans believe that President Bush vetoed their “only” hope for effective medical treatments — that morals and ethics will cause them to suffer. The truth is the reverse. Because of stem cell moral debates, the public and its political leaders are questioning the practical worth of broad research directions. More than any cell, these debates represent Man’s greatest cause for medical hope. But this hope is fading.

Nineteen Republican senators crossed party lines to vote in favor of H.R. 810. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.), also a doctor, reversed his longstanding moral opposition to killing human embryos by supporting this bill. Some religious and political leaders sanctioned S. 2754, a bill aimed at developing “ethical” sources of embryonic stem cells. Yet, before California’s Prop 71 passed by an alarming margin in 2004, these same leaders formerly questioned the therapeutic practicality of all embryonic stem cells, regardless of their source.

These actions stem from public opinion. Politicians might withstand the media’s abuse, but not the loss of grassroots voter support. The more the public buys into unfounded, impractical hype concerning embryonic stem cells and cloning, the dimmer its medical hopes become.

Far more dangerous to the public’s health than a president’s well-deserved veto, or expecting science to conform to ethics, is the threat of a future with no ethics or morals at all — when public policies concerning life, death, sickness, and health are determined by whoever runs the best publicity campaign — when man serves science, not the reverse.

Inconceivable? Others have thought so before.