Nearly one in two Americans suffer a "chronic" (long-lasting or incurable) disease or disability. These are our family members, people we know and love.
To heal the ill and injured, rather than merely maintaining them in their suffering, we must have cures. That means research funding, and scientific freedom, supported by our leadership.
Our next President must understand the importance of medical research, and help us go forward.
So where do they stand, the Presidential candidates of 2016: Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton?
One chatted casually about giving control of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to a conservative radio "shock jock."
Another voted to put stem cell researchers in jail, with a fine of one million dollars.
And one is a long-term supporter of full stem cell research. (3)
Can you guess which is which?
1. When Donald Trump visited the ultra-conservative Michael Savage radio show, the host made an unusual request, asking to be appointed head of the $30 billion National Institutes of Health, saying:
When you become president, I want you to consider appointing me to head of the NIH. I will make sure that America has real science and real medicine again in this country because I know the corruption. I know how to clean it up and I know how to make real research work again.
To which Trump responded:
"I think that's great... you know you'd get common sense if that were the case, that I can tell you, because I hear so much about the NIH, and it's terrible."
Hopefully, Mr. Trump was only joking -- but this is the man who pledged to eliminate what he calls the "Department of Environmental", so it is hard to consider him a friend to science.
2. Bernie Sanders co-sponsored a bill to put scientists in jail for ten years -- and fine them one million dollars -- for a type of stem cell research called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, (SCNT), sometimes called "therapeutic cloning."
Sanders's legislation condemned both good and bad kinds of cloning as if there was no difference between the universally-despised reproductive cloning (an attempt to create babies, endangering both mother and child) and therapeutic cloning, stem cells in a petri dish. This is like comparing a light bulb with a lightning bolt; both involve electricity, but one lights a room while the other starts forest fires.
Robert Klein, Chair Emeritus of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine said:
"Sanders and (then-Republican House Majority Leader Tom) DeLay -- were part of the religious right's attempt to shut down this whole critical new frontier of therapy for chronic disease."
Why would Senator Sanders side with anti-science extremists to put researchers in jail? Sadly, he is known to oppose biomedicine, saying he had "very serious concerns about the long-term goals of an increasingly powerful and profit-motivated biotechnology industry."
Biomedicine, it should be noted, currently provides more California jobs than aerospace and the movie industry put together.
3. Hillary Clinton strongly supports full stem cell research. As a senator, she was faced with the question of cloning and answered it boldly.
Like former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and First Lady Nancy Reagan, Secretary Clinton supported SCNT for stem cells, while banning human reproductive cloning. With fellow Senators Dianne Feinstein and the late Edward Kennedy, Clinton co-authored legislation with a clear distinction between what should be supported and what should be illegal.
The purpose of her bill was plain: "To prohibit human cloning while preserving important areas of medical research, including stem cell research."
What kind of President do we want?
A man who will side with anti-science extremists and vote three times to jail stem cell researchers?
Someone with so little scientific awareness that he does not even know the name of the Environmental Protective Agency -- which he would eliminate?
Or a woman who has studied the issues and taken her stand -- consistently fighting for research for cure?
Don C. Reed is the author of "STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond: How Ordinary People Can Fight Back Against the Crushing Burden of Chronic Disease", available at Amazon.com.