Friday, June 22, 2007

Stem Cell Block

The president’s recent veto of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is not only a blow to the hopes of 100 million Americans with diseases that might be cured but is an assault on American scientific prowess itself.

The president says his action draws an ethical line and that embryonic stem cell research is not the only option. Each person’s ethics may differ, but public opinion surveys consistently showing more than 60 percent of Americans opposing the president represent an ethical consideration, too. And while there may be other options, the scientific evidence-based consensus indicates those other options fall far short of the best option of embryonic research.

Even if some future administration reverses course, we will have lost the best researchers to foreign countries, thereby robbing the U.S. economy of a growth engine and hobbling the country’s scientific infrastructure.

Even if money is provided by state governments and philanthropies, there is not enough money to keep scientists fully engaged, and funders will be reluctant to support expensive, long-term studies that the NIH, by law, cannot. The result will be a more rapid outsourcing of vital health- and economy-enhancing research to countries that value science more than dogma.

The president’s executive order directing NIH and other agencies to further explore stem cell research without harming embryos is a bait-and-switch tactic that ought to be outlawed by the Federal Trade Commission: There was nothing preventing such federally funded research before the executive order was issued, and neither the executive order nor the president’s budget allocates any money for new research.

Instead of investing so much capital on issues that create political division, I believe more ought to be spent on cell division.

The stem cell veto reminds us that the administration and Congress are letting all other medical research languish for lack of adequate funding. A couple of months ago, the consumer-health-conscious Parade magazine asked its 30 million or so readers what they would like to see Congress do with regard to health issues.

The nonprofit advocacy organization Research!America used the responses to shape a questionnaire sent to all senators and representatives.

Find out how your representatives are responding to Americans’ demand for more attention to health and medical research issues by going to this new Web site displaying members’ attitudes toward these issues. It will be updated until every member responds.

(The views presented here are those solely of the author and do not represent the views of family members, whose employers would freak if they did.)

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