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August 18, 2001
Column #1042

BUSH: POLITICALLY WISE, BUT QUESTIONABLE

     President Bush's decision to allow limited federal funding of embryonic stem cell research is politically wise but is questionable and was pressured by a biased press. His approval rating rose in the Gallup Poll after he fashioned a compromise that neither side thought could be compromised.

     In his first use of the bully pulpit, he gave voice to the liberal side of the argument by raising their questions: ''First, are these frozen embryos human life and therefore something precious to be protected? And second, if they're going to be destroyed anyway, shouldn't they be used for a greater good, for research that has the potential to save and improve other lives?''

     Bush answered the first one, ''That cluster of cells is the same way you and I and all the rest of us started our lives.'' On the second question, there is no need to destroy the cells at all. Every one could be implanted in infertile woman. 

     What has been unreported is that there is ''far greater demand for embryos than supplies of them,'' according to Dr. Bradley Van Voorhis, Professor at the University of Iowa and director of a program that has planted 50 donated embryos in infertile women.

     Yet, sadly, many more embryos are being destroyed than implanted. Why? 

     The President partially explained the answer: In the process of in vitro fertilization, which helps many couples conceive children, ''When doctors match sperm and egg to create life outside the womb, they usually produce more embryos than are implanted in the mother. Once a couple successfully has children, or if they are unsuccessful, the additional embryos remain frozen in laboratories.''

     The couple then has a choice. Will they allow the excess embryos to be implanted in other infertile women, or will they allow them to be donated to science or be destroyed? Relatively few choose to give them to other couples. Why? They ''are not thrilled about the idea of having a child that is genetically linked to them raised by someone else,'' Van Voorhis told me.

     This is pure selfishness. The President might have publicly urged donors to relinquish them for adoption rather than consent to their destruction. 

     Instead, he focused upon the embryos used to create privately funded stem cell lines that scientists believe offer great promise to improve the lives of those who suffer from such diseases as juvenile diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

     Do embryonic stem cells offer great promise, or is it adult stem cells that do so?

     Which type is already being used to help patients with multiple sclerosis, lupus, arthritis, stroke, anemia, blood and liver diseases, cancers of the brain, ovaries, and breast, diabetes, bone damage and repair of the heart after heart attack?

     All (ital) are being treated with adult stem cells. No (ital) patients have been helped with embryonic stem cells. None.

     ''There is no evidence of therapeutic benefit from embryonic stem cells,'' Marcus Grompe, M.D., Ph.D., an expert in cell transplantation to repair damaged livers at Oregon Health Sciences University, told the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine June 22.

     What? Why hasn't this been reported?

     Honestly, I am baffled by the failure of my colleagues in the press to report pure scientific evidence on this issue. Newsweek's July 6 headline is typical: ''The President is trapped between religion and science over stem cells.'' That's a sickening, erroneous bias which ignores science. 

     The potential of embryonic stem cells is only that. Potential. It has not been demonstrated in a culture dish, let alone animals or humans. (See stemcellresearch.org)

     This bias fed Democratic passion and lured Republican moderates to support funding embryonic stem cell research.

     Sadly, it swayed the President as well. During the campaign, Bush wrote to Catholic bishops that ''taxpayer funds should not underwrite research that involves the destruction of live human embryos.'' Stem cells can not be obtained from embryos without killing them. 

     Bush has agreed to allow federal funding of research of 60 ''stem cell lines that were created from embryos that have already been destroyed.'' More important, he agreed to ''aggressively promote stem cell research...from sources other than embryos: adult cells, umbilical cords and human placentas.'' He threatened to veto a bill to expand embryonic stem cell research.

     That satisfied some conservatives like Dr. James Dobson who said, ''We grieve the loss of those embryos, but the truth is they are gone and we can't change that. He is not talking about destroying any more with federal dollars.'' But Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the Catholic Bishops, called it ''morally unacceptable.'' Yet some scientists say Bush's support is too limited.

     The President clearly agonized over the issue, and could not satisfy everyone.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus. 

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