Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
It is hard to believe it has been ten years since that fateful day in which the President addressed us to discuss the death of thousands. No, not that day. It has been ten years since President Bush made his decision to allow federal funding for research into how we could use the death of other human beings for maximum benefit.
A little refresher. On August 9, 2001, just a month short of another fateful day in American history, President Bush addressed the nation to explain his decision to allow federal funding on existing stem cell lines.
President Bush acknowledged the profound ethical questions involved but in a misdirected attempt at Solomonic wisdom decided to split the baby. He decided that he would not allow federal funding to kill human beings but he would allow federal funding for experimentation on the tissue derived from those already killed. Of course, the killing of new children in the name of science continued and continues in the private sector unabated.
While it may be useful to debate the morality and wisdom of that ten year old decision again, I will leave that to others. I would like to take a look back, from the vantage point of ten years in the future, to review the premises and promises that led to that decision.
In his speech, President Bush directly addressed his reason for allowing the horror of embryonic stem cell research to continue on the taxpayer dime. Emphases are mine.
Based on preliminary work that has been privately funded, scientists believe further research using stem cells offers great promise that could help improve the lives of those who suffer from many terrible diseases, from juvenile diabetes to Alzheimer’s, from Parkinson’s to spinal cord injuries. And while scientists admit they are not yet certain, they believe stem cells derived from embryos have unique potential.
You should also know that stem cells can be derived from sources other than embryos: from adult cells, from umbilical cords that are discarded after babies are born, from human placentas. And many scientists feel research on these types of stem cells is also promising. Many patients suffering from a range of diseases are already being helped with treatments developed from adult stem cells.
However, most scientists, at least today, believe that research on embryonic stem cells offers the most promise because these cells have the potential to develop in all of the tissues in the body.
Scientists further believe that rapid progress in this research will come only with federal funds. Federal dollars help attract the best and brightest scientists. They ensure new discoveries are widely shared at the largest number of research facilities, and that the research is directed toward the greatest public good.
In summary, stem cells offer great promise and embryonic stem cells offer greater promise than adult stem cells and the only way to advance science is with federal funds.
Ten years on, we know that so many of those assumptions, assumptions sold by the scientific community, are wrong. While stem cells did and do offer promise, it has been the adult stem cells and stem cells derived from other cells that have resulted in almost all the advances and treatments of the last decade and many of these treatments have come with little or no benefit of federal dollars.
Yet the federal funding of research using only existing stem cell lines was not enough for some. Not satisfied with moralistic half-measures, States like California poured billions of dollars into research that kills human beings, of course with little or nothing to show for it. This is not only my evaluation of the situation. Five years into California’s multi-billion dollar ESCR funding debacle, Investors Business Daily evaluated to progress of that research.
Bioethics: Five years after a budget-busting $3 billion was allocated to embryonic stem cell research, there have been no cures, no therapies and little progress. So supporters are embracing research they once opposed.
Supporters of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, passed in 2004, held out hopes of imminent medical miracles that were being held up only by President Bush’s policy of not allowing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) beyond existing stem cell lines and which involved the destruction of embryos created for that purpose.
Five years later, ESCR has failed to deliver and backers of Prop 71 are admitting failure. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state agency created to, as some have put it, restore science to its rightful place, is diverting funds from ESCR to research that has produced actual therapies and treatments: adult stem cell research. It not only has treated real people with real results; it also does not come with the moral baggage ESCR does.
To us, this is a classic bait-and-switch, an attempt to snatch success from the jaws of failure and take credit for discoveries and advances achieved by research Prop. 71 supporters once cavalierly dismissed. We have noted how over the years that when funding was needed, the phrase “embryonic stem cells” was used. When actual progress was discussed, the word “embryonic” was dropped because ESCR never got out of the lab.
So this is all the legacy of Bush’s meek bargain with the forces of death. Billions spent and thousands dead for naught. So the obvious lesson for today’s pols and scientists? Abandon this frightful and fruitless research? No. In keeping with the mantra of the age, we just haven’t spent enough.
Truth be told, the situation may not have been all that different had Bush properly withheld federal funds from any research that used embryos, but at least the rest of us would not be part of this fruitless holocaust.