Will Obama Bail Out Bad Science?

Fresh off bailouts of the auto industry and big government, President Barack Obama is signaling that he’s still in the mood for giveaways.  This time he wants to give away American taxpayers’ money to bail out the failing embryonic stem cell research industry.

Recently, Obama offered his “guarantee” that he would soon sign an executive order lifting limits on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).  But the only thing forcing taxpayers to fund unproven, life-destroying research will “guarantee” is a refueling of the culture wars Obama spent an entire campaign pledging to extinguish.

As with most issues related to science, the Left has won over public opinion on stem cell research by running a ruthless misinformation campaign.  Most Americans believe the central question is whether or not ESCR should be outlawed.  Sadly, that’s not the case.  The real question is who should pay for it.  And as soon as the president signs the executive order, American taxpayers, many suffering economic hardship, will be on the hook for research that destroys human embryos and has shown itself ineffective.  

The media is complicit in this misinformation campaign.  It’s been a decade since cell biologist James Thomson derived the first human embryonic stem cell line, and nearly eight years since President Bush signed an executive order allowing federal funding of embryonic research limited to already existing lines.  But the media continue to distort the debate.  Most media routinely fail to distinguish between fetal and embryonic stem cell research (which destroy life) and adult and umbilical cord stem cell research (which don’t destroy life).  

And even when the media do use the words “embryonic” or “fetal” to identify the specific type of stem cell research to which conservatives object, it is typically in a way that misstates scientific fact.  A National Public Radio report this week stated that President Bush’s executive order was supported by some “who see embryonic stem cell research as destroying potential life.”  

Potential life?  Whatever their positions on embryo research, all scientists acknowledge that embryos are in fact alive.  This belief helps explain why James Thomson recently said, “If human embryonic stem cell research doesn’t make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough.”  

Given that our president once famously found the question of when human beings deserve human rights “above my pay grade,” we should not be surprised that he does not share Thomson’s misgivings.  

But more and more Americans do.  In fact, a Pew Forum survey published last July found support for ESCR falling.  “After showing consistent increases in the early part of the decade,” the Pew report stated, “support fell from peak of 57 percent in July 2005 to 51 percent in August of 2007.”  Meanwhile, polls by Gallup find that only 11 percent of Americans want unfettered government funding of embryo research.

And in 2007, voters in New Jersey voted down a referendum to borrow $450 million to fund ESCR in that state.  

Unfortunately for taxpayers in California (which in 2004 devoted $3 billion to ESCR) and other states that have approved funding of embryo research, the Obama executive order will mean they will now be asked to pony up twice for the destructive research.  

The immorality of embryo research is a sufficient reason to oppose it.  But another reason is its abject failure. That’s in large part because, after being injected into the patient, embryonic stem cells have the nasty habit of either being rejected by the immune system or developing tumors.  

Just this week it was reported that a family desperate to save their child from terminal brain disease sought experimental injections of fetal stem cells, which triggered tumors in the boy’s brain and spinal cord.

Barack Obama calls ESCR “the gold standard.”  But it’s adult stem cell research that’s unlocking the rejuvenating potential of stem cell therapy.  In England this week, we heard that heart disease patients will soon participate in a trial using adult stem cells that may reduce or eliminate the need for a heart transplant by turning the patients’ bone marrow stem cells into human heart stem cells, then injecting them into the heart.  One scientist involved said this development may result in a “big leap forward” in helping heart patients.

Such treatments from adult stem cells are hardly novel.  In fact, the Family Research Council has set up a website that tracks adult stem cell success stories.  Its newest report highlights some of the successful treatments over the last six months for a variety of diseases and injuries, from autoimmune diseases and brain injuries to cancer to kidney damage.  

Even more innovative was the work of two teams of scientists that in 2008 succeeded in reprogramming mature adult stem cells to behave like embryonic stem cells.  Since embryos are not destroyed in the process, this discovery allows adult stem cells to gain all the properties of embryonic stem cells but without the ethical issues.

This development won Science magazine’s 2008 breakthrough of the year and was lauded by numerous stem cell research pioneers, including James Thomson, who predicted that “a decade from now, [ESCR] will be just a funny historical footnote.”  

But don’t expect Obama to offer more than muted support for these successful, life-affirming alternatives.  He will likely remain silent for the same reason he opposes funding for pregnancy resource centers (which provide women with positive solutions to crisis pregnancies):  because according to Obama’s twisted logic, anything that’s life-affirming is viewed as an inherent assault on what Obama calls “reproductive justice,” which he views as “one of the most fundamental rights we possess.”  

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to help end the bitter cultural wars that have tainted the last few decades of politics. In his inaugural address, President Obama pledged to “restore science to its rightful place.” Sadly, by bailing out the ESCR industry, Obama is ignoring what’s happening on the cutting edge of stem cell science, and assuring that the culture wars he pledged to end will live on.