"If man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be" (C.S. Lewis).
Shortly after the House of Representatives voted January 11 for passage of HR 3 — the bill that requires the federal government to fund embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR) — a number of the bill's Congressional supporters gathered for a press conference wherein they promised that when this bill becomes law, the new research will soon lead to the cure of a host of terrible maladies. Among the maladies not mentioned by the legislators were stupidity and hypocrisy.
After considerable investigation into this subject, I am convinced that the push for government funding of embryonic stem-cell research has nothing to do with curing sick people. If it did, the people who are lobbying for that research would switch their efforts to adult stem cells, the real next great leap in medical technology.
Although it's rarely mentioned by the secular media, adult stem-cell research is more likely to cure the Michael J. Foxes of this world than embryonic stem-cell research. Adult stem cells exist in living organisms. Their purpose, according to the National Institutes of Health, is "to maintain and repair the tissue in which they are found." In the course of several decades of research scientists have learned that they can be taken from one part of the body and transferred to another part that is diseased or damaged where they will become an agent for healing. And this can be done without harm to the patient.
Unlike ESCR, which is still stuck in the microscope-and-torturing-rodents stage, adult stem-cell research has advanced to the clinical research level, where it can be tested on people. According to a December 20, 2004, National Review Online article by Michael Fumento, a Hudson Institute fellow who has been studying this issue for several years, there were, when he wrote that article, already approximately 300 clinical trials using adult stem-cell therapies.
Long before embryonic stem-cell research yields any positive results, adult stem-cell research will provide cures for most, if not all, of the diseases currently being lamented by the ESCR proponents. Why, then, are so many scientists and politicians pushing for ESCR funding? I can think of three reasons.
Reason one: There is the temptation to play God. An embryonic stem cell can become any kind of a cell. Scientists who learn how to manipulate embryonic stem cells will learn not only how to prevent disease-causing cells from forming, but how to design human beings, or maybe even new species.
Reason two: There is the abortion issue. The pro-life community opposes ESCR for the same reason we oppose abortion: it destroys innocent human life. For the most part, the advocates for funding embryo-destroying research also support unfettered abortion. And it is in the vested interest of the abortion industry to make sure that the federal government does not protect any human being who doesn't have a birth certificate.
Reason three: There is unadulterated, cynical politics at work here. One political party is using "stem cell research" as a wedge issue to demonstrate that they are the party that cares about sick people, while the other party, the party that caters to the religious Right, only cares about embryos.
Enter a complication: On the Sunday before the House voted to fund ESCR, a team of scientists from Wake Forest University and Harvard Medical School announced that they had discovered "pluripotent stem cells capable of giving rise to multiple lineages including representatives of all three embryonic germ layers" in amniotic fluid. In other words, scientists have discovered a source of the kinds of cells required to satisfy Reason One above without killing embryos, or anything else for that matter.
During debate on the ESCR bill, Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey began his comments by alluding to the fact that most members of the House already knew there was an alternative to ESCR that didn't involve the destruction of embryos, and then went on to describe this latest remarkable development. But the House voted for the embryo-killing research anyway. Reasons two and three apparently trumped reason one.
President Bush has promised to veto the bill if it passes in the Senate.