10/15/04 — Trying hard: Actor’s death used to revive stem cell research discussion

View Archive

Trying hard: Actor’s death used to revive stem cell research discussion

When John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.
— U.S. Sen. John Edwards, Democratic nominee for vice president

We just don’t seem able to get beyond stem cell research as an issue in the campaign for president. It shouldn’t be an issue at all.

The fact is that what Sen. John Kerry would do if he were elected president is not materially different from what President George W. Bush has already done.

Kerry has said he would allow government funding for embryonic stem cell research, along with the other types — research on adult cells and placenta cells.

Bush allows government funding for embryonic stem cell research, too, along with adult stem cell and placenta stem cell research.

The difference in their two positions involves embryonic stem cell research. Bush, although he is accused of banning it, actually funds it but limits government funding to existing stem cells. That way, people who have moral and ethical problems with obtaining the cells by taking life are not forced to finance it through their taxes.

There are no limits on private embryonic stem cell research.

All Kerry says that he would do differently is expand government funding to new lines of embryonic stem cells. Scientifically, the difference is not extremely important, but to some people there is an important ethical difference.

Some liberals seek to paint Bush as either hard-hearted or thick-headed with the lie that he does not support stem cell research. The truth is that he is the first president to allow government funding for it.

The policy of the Democratic administration of former President Bill Clinton was to allow federal money to finance research on any stem cell lines, but Clinton never got around to funding it.

In contrast, Bush studied the issue and, seven months after his inauguration, announced a policy. He also announced that $25 million was being spent on funding stem cell research.

Scientists hope that stem cell research may eventually provide cures for a number of physical conditions that until recently have seemed hopeless. One is spinal cord injuries.

Actor Christopher Reeve was the victim of a spinal cord injury and had been confined to a wheelchair for 10 years. He was an effective advocate for stem cell research, and, not surprisingly, his death last Sunday brought the issue back into the political spotlight.

It did so in an unfortunate way. Sen. John Edwards’ statement that Kerry’s election could enable spinal cord victims to walk was detestable. There is no assurance that stem cell research of any kind will help anyone whose spinal cord is severed, as was Reeve’s. It is cruel to hold out false hope to the victims and their families.

Moreover, if there is progress — and let us pray that there will be — it could come just as well from the kinds of research that are going on now: Government-funded embryonic research on existing lines of cells, private research on embryonic cells, or research on adult or placenta cells.

Anyone who says that kind of research is not under way under Bush is lying. Anyone who makes a flat statement that one candidate or the other will, through stem cell rsearch, find a cure for a severed spinal cord is trying a little too hard to win.

Published in Editorials on October 15, 2004 11:39 AM