August 18, 2001
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
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.
''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
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
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.