Stem Cells Our Only Hope

Somewhere in your family genetics lurks a horrifying truth: a hereditary disease or painful disability that could likely be wiped out by the use of stem cells. Watching my mother and father die long, painful deaths from cancer and diabetes convinced me that I needed to promote stem cell research here in the country where we had a leading edge. That is, until the Bush Administration and the religious (but not) right put a halt to all of it.

The two bills at stake at the federal level would provide at least a portion of the $138 billion left after the 2006 budget pays off mostly Medicaid obligations (and how reassuring to know some of that money went to purchase Viagra for convicted rapists and high risk sex offenders in New York last year) toward stem cell therapy and umbilical cord banks. The CDC, NIH, and FDA will likely need the lion's share of that money.

Even California, with the most ambitious voter-approved stem cell research initiative in the nation, is now facing a threat to tie the hands of genetic scientists. A new proposal requests more public oversight that, according to the new California stem cell agency, "stops progress dead in its tracks."

This, while South Korea has become the leader in an area of stem cell research that doesn't even require embryonic substance. That should have been and easily could have been an American dream. California was ready.

But back to the Feds; please, make one call today to (202) 619-0257 or (202) 690-7000. A symbolic gesture by the public to convince Health and Human Services Director Micheal Leavitt the passage of these two bills might make a difference in quality of life for millions is obligatory, if probably futile. Leavitt parrots the Bush line on stem cells. They have objections to the kind of research which could save future generations from pain and suffering and therefore significantly reduce health care costs overall.

In the wake of South Korea's big step forward, President Bush said he fears living in a world where cloning is possible. I fear living in a world where political leaders fight legitimate scientific advancement just to curry favor with nineteenth century thinkers.