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Stem cell veto short on logic, long on politics

Kirk Caraway

My father has diabetes. I watch his struggles with the disease and wonder if I might be doing the same thing one day, checking my blood sugar several times a day and hoping the next insulin shot doesn’t kill me.

I pray that he can keep fighting the myriad problems brought on by the disease long enough to keep playing grandpa for his only granddaughter, who is only three years old. My father is 66. His mother, who also had diabetes, died at age 67. When I’m 67, my daughter will be 28. Knowing what is likely in my DNA, I wonder if I will even get the chance to see my grandchildren, much less watch them grow up.

When I look at the current debate over stem cell research, I don’t see it as mere politics. I see it as life, for my father, for me, for my little girl. This research has the potential to cure a variety of ailments from diabetes to Alzheimer’s to spinal cord injuries.



So when President Bush used his very first veto in 51Ú2 years in office to defeat funding for stem cell research, I take it personally.

Maybe you think I’m selfish to want stem cell research to find a cure for me and my family. But I daresay nearly everyone has a friend or family member who could be helped, those with diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries and a host of other aliments.



Bush’s logic for the veto escapes any rational explanation. His press secretary Tony Snow said, “The simple answer is he thinks murder is wrong.”

But then Snow went on to note that stem cell research would carry on without federal funding. So, I guess murder is OK as long as you don’t fund it with federal dollars.

I’ve heard some conservatives commend Bush for his consistency on this issue. But the only consistency I see here is how he panders to that small group he calls his base, whose election machinery keeps Bush in power.

The stem cell research that Bush vetoed would have used human embryos left over from in vitro fertilization procedures, where many embryos are created in order to improve the chances for childless couples to conceive. These embryos are often discarded after the couples no longer have a use for them.

And that is the really sick part about this veto. While Bush may call it murder to use human embryos for research, he seems to be OK with flushing these very same cells down the drain.

The real fear for Bush’s conservative base is not that embryos are killed. The real fear is what would happen if the research pans out. If a cure to any disease is found by using stem cells, it undercuts the contention from anti-abortionists that life begins at conception.

It’s easy to agree with that principle in an academic sense, but when faced with a real benefit of using unwanted frozen embryos to cure serious diseases, the tide turns. Even the most ardent abortion opponent may change his mind if presented with the choice of living with Alzheimer’s or seeking a cure through embryonic stem cell therapy.

Think of the young men and women coming back from Iraq with broken spines and missing limbs. Do you think they would have problems with stem cell research that could one day give them back the normal life taken away by the weapons of war? Let Bush face a veteran of war who can’t walk and tell him that stem cell research crosses his moral boundaries.

In wartime, we accept that innocent people will die in order to benefit the greater good. Bush and his base have no problem with that logic. Can’t we use the same logic here, that unwanted, frozen embryos can be used to help cure these terrible diseases, for the benefit of millions?

Fortunately the research will go on despite the roadblocks placed in its way. Perhaps it leads to a cure for these ailments, perhaps not. Hopefully President Bush doesn’t find himself in a position where he or someone in his family needs a cure that isn’t there because he decided to play politics with medical research.

– Kirk Caraway is Internet editor of the Nevada Appeal and the Sierra Nevada Media Group, the parent company of the Tribune.


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