Stem cell research has been a big deal during this political season. Actor Christopher Reeve was a proponent of stem cell research before his death earlier this month. Senator Kerry and others have used it as a tool to beat on President Bush, who supposedly banned stem cell research. Of course, that’s a lie — President Bush never banned it, as I’ve pointed out before. The topic simmered in this year’s political soup, occasionally rolling to the top like a carrot in boiling stock. Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post wrote of this latest burst on October 15th:
It turned out days later that the Kerry campaign has a plan — nay, a promise — to cure paralysis. What is the plan? Vote for Kerry.
This is John Edwards on Monday at a rally in Newton, Iowa: “If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”
In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. Hope is good. False hope is bad. Deliberately, for personal gain, raising false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable….
As a doctor by training, I’ve known better than to believe the hype — and have tried in my own counseling of people with new spinal cord injuries to place the possibility of cure in abeyance. I advise instead to concentrate on making a life (and a very good life it can be) with the hand one is dealt. The greatest enemies of this advice have been the snake-oil salesmen promising a miracle around the corner. I never expected a candidate for vice president to be one of them.
Recently, stem cell research hit the news again with California’s Proposition 71. This proposition would take $3 billion from Californians ($6 billion after interest kicks in — yes, that’s billion with a b) to fund embryonic stem cell research. The Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is backing Prop. 71, but not all Republicans are equally in favor of it. Actor and director Mel Gibson has come out publicly against Prop. 71.
In an October 28 appearance with Diane Sawyer of ABC’s Good Morning America, Mel Gibson had this to say:
I’m very concerned with, with, with the stem cell question. I’m for stem cell research. I think it can do a lot of good. When I heard about Proposition 71 to sort of promote stem cell research, I was overjoyed, you know, because it can do so much good. But then I began to look further into the proposition and I found that the cloning of human embryos will be used in the process, and that for me, I have an ethical problem with that.
Here is another exchange from the same show:
[Diane Sawyer] One challenge that is raised is this is not a human being. This is a group of cells clustered in a petri dish, barely visible …
[Mel Gibson] Well, I was never in a petri dish, but at one stage, I was that little cluster of cells myself, as were you, as was the doctor, as is everybody. Tell me anybody who wasn’t that at some point in their development and I’ll give you a cigar.
You can read the whole transcript from this show on LexisNexis. In addition to this show and other media interviews and radio guest spots, Mel Gibson recorded a short ad speaking out against Prop. 71. The transcript is below; you can listen to the original on www.NoOn71.org:
Research on adult and umbilical cord stem cells have led to cures in 300,000 cases. But that’s not what Proposition 71 is about.
This is Mel Gibson. I’m concerned that people aren’t fully informed about Prop 71. We’ve got a lot of questions to ask, like, “Why are we being misled into thinking Prop 71 isn’t about cloning, when it is?” That’s what it says. “Somatic cell nuclear transfer,” and that’s a scientific term for cloning.
If cloning human embryos for destruction is so promising, why aren’t private companies paying the six billion dollars? Because in 23 years, embryonic stem cell research has not produced a single human cure. All it’s yielded is tumors, rejection and mutations.
See, bad science doesn’t attract venture capital, so why should the taxpayers be bled dry?
This is Mel Gibson. I’m voting No on Prop 71. Creating life simply to destroy it is wrong, particularly when there are effective alternatives readily available.
Why should the public be forced to fund something that could be handled by private industry? If this really is the end-all, be-all cure of the century, wouldn’t you expect wise-minded investors to toss a few dollars toward embryonic stem cell research? Of course they would. But they don’t, because the interesting research is coming from adult and umbilical cord stem cells. Heck, they have even found adult stem cells in fat, and if there is one thing the adults in this country have in good supply, it is fat.
There is no need to push embryonic stem cell research while adult and umbilical cord stem cells are available. And it certainly should not be achieved at public expense.
Addendum (11/3/2004): Well, Californians passed it. I hope they don’t mind ponying up the six billion dollars.