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Bush Vetoes "Crossing a Moral Boundary"

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Most of us learned about the process in elementary school civics lessons—the President’s power to veto a bill. On Wednesday, July 19, 2006, President Bush exercised his veto power on stem cell bill H.R. 810, saying that legislation easing limits on federal funding for embryonic research “crosses a moral boundary” (Dalrymple, 2006). The previous day, the U.S. Senate passed three bills dealing with different aspects of stem cell research (S. 2754; S. 3504; H.R. 810). The bill designated S.2754, sponsored by Senator Rick Santorum, would allow scientists to derive human pluripotent stem cell lines by using techniques that do not intentionally harm embryos (see “Recent Floor Activity,” 2006). The second bill, S. 3504, also sponsored by Rick Santorum, amended the Public Health Service Act to prohibit the solicitation or acceptance of tissue from fetuses gestated for research purposes, and for other purposes (e.g., tissue farms). Both of these bills passed with two-thirds majority, and President Bush quickly signed them into law. Representative Michael Castle sponsored H.R. 810, which called for an amendment to the Public Health Service Act which would provide federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. This bill did not reach the two-thirds majority, with the votes being only 63-37 in favor (“Recent Floor Activity”), leaving the door open to a presidential veto.

Just hours before Bush took action, actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, was interviewed on “Good Morning America,” and indicated he could not understand Bush’s desire to veto the bill. He noted: “I think that to make a choice to protect millions of cells that are going to be destroyed over protecting millions of living...human beings and citizens of this country is hard to get around it” (“Michael J. Fox...,” 2006). Someone at ABC should have reminded Mr. Fox that those are not simply millions of “cells,” as he referred to them, but living human embryos. They occupy the exact same beginning stages of life that all humans experience—including Mr. Fox. Fox maintained: “People really want this, and they consider it and they’ve prayed on it and they’ve thought about it. And I think you have to trust our scientists, our institutions, our facilities to really do the right thing and lead the way with this” (“Michael J. Fox...”). Has Fox considered the possibility that the only reason the American public is showing any interest in embryonic stem cell research is because the mainstream media continues to promote the “potential benefits,” all the while burying the known positive benefits of using adult stem cells? Additionally, one might ask why we should trust the scientific community. Given the recent scandal from Korean researcher Woo Suk Hwang (see Harrub, 2006a) and the obvious anti-religious bias now being upheld by scientific journals (see Harrub, 2006b), we can rest assured that many researchers have a personal agenda.

In an article titled “Science’s Stem Cell Scam,” Michael Fumento exposes some of the lies and half-truths that the media is purporting, suggesting that the well known journal Science should change its name to Pseudoscience (Fumento, 2006). He noted:

In the detailed attachment to their letter, the Science magazine writers aren’t just at odds with Prentice [David Prentice with the Family Research Counsel—BH] but the medical community as a whole. For example, regarding sickle-cell anemia, they claim “adult stem cell transplants from bone marrow or umbilical cord blood can provide some benefit to sickle cell patients” and “hold the potential to treat sickle cell anemia.” “Some benefit” and “potential?” An article from the May 2006 issue of Current Opinion in Hematology notes that “there is presently no curative therapy” for sickle-cell anemia other than allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. “Hematopoietic” means from marrow or blood; “allogeneic” means the cells are from another person. Seminars in Hematology (2004) states, “. . . curative allogeneic stem cell transplantation therapy” has “been developed for sickle cell anemia.” Meanwhile, “. . . curative allogeneic stem cell transplantation therapy [has] been developed for” sickle-cell anemia according to Current Opinions in Molecular Therapy (2003), while “hematopoietic stem cells for allogeneic transplantation” are “currently the only curative approach for sickle cell anemia” observes the journal Blood (2002). What does everybody seem to know that the Science writers and editors don’t? Words like “could” and “potential” are trick phraseology used throughout the letter attachment for ASC curative therapies that have been used routinely for years. This appears to give them no advantage over ESC therapy, all of which boasts nothing but potential (Fumento, 2006, italics in orig.)

We should not miss Fumento’s point. Why does a leading science journal purposefully try to mislead the public and other researchers when editors are familiar with the true peer-reviewed data? Maybe this is one reason Michael J. Fox and so many others have bought into this idea that we “need” embryonic stem cells, and why he maintains “people want this.”

Fumento concluded his article: “The journal wants to flood unpromising ESC [embryonic stem cell—BH] research with taxpayer dollars because private investors know just how very unpromising it is. Now yet again Science has showcased the scientific and moral bankruptcy of the entire ESC-advocacy movement” (Fumento, 2006). Strong words, given the bill that just landed on President Bush’s desk.

In defending his veto, President Bush stated: “This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others” (as quoted in Dalrymple, 2006). Reporting on the White House press conference held by Bush, Dalrymple noted that Bush was “surrounded by 18 families who ‘adopted’ frozen embryos not used by other couples, and then used those leftover embryos to have children.” Bush said, “Each of these children was still adopted while still an embryo and has been blessed with a chance to grow, to grow up in a loving family. These boys and girls are not spare parts” (as quoted in Dalrymple, 2006). Hours earlier, White House spokesman Tony Snow declared: “The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research, it’s inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder. He’s one of them” (“Bush Prepares...,” 2006).

The ironic “untold story” of this entire episode is that within the last two weeks, scientists have reportedly discovered the proteins that will convert adult stem cells into the same category as embryonic stem cells—with the ability to divide indefinitely and potentially become any type of cell (Pearson, 2006). Thus, the entire field of embryonic stem cell research may be “unemployed” or pursuing other avenues.

Carl Hall, science writer for the San Francisco Chronicle observed: “Stem cell scientists in the United Kingdom are reporting today a gene discovery that suggests a way to take adult cells back to an embryonic state—a discovery that could help treat diseases without relying on controversial human embryonic stem cells or cloning” (2006). Nature writer Nancy Pearson concurred:

Biologists say they are close to finding a cellular elixir of youth: a cocktail of proteins that can convert adult cells into embryonic stem cells that are able to grow replacement tissues. Two studies published in Nature identify key proteins that endow embryonic stem cells with their coveted abilities to divide again and again, ad infinitum, and to generate all the different tissues in the body (Pearson, 2006).

In his concluding remarks at the White House, President Bush spoke eloquently about the value of human life. He reminded the American public:

As science brings us every [sic] closer to unlocking the secrets of human biology, it also offers temptations to manipulate human life and violate human dignity. Our conscience in history as a nation demands that we resist this temptation. America was founded on the principle that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with the right to life. We can advance the cause of science while upholding this founding promise. We can harness the promise of technology without becoming slaves to technology. And we can ensure that science serves the cause of humanity, instead of the other way around (Dalrymple, 2006, emp. added).

Interesting, is it not, that the senators voted unanimously against fetal tissue “farming,” yet, because of the emotions and politics involved, they could justify voting in favor of funding embryonic stem cell research? Does the distasteful sound of a “tissue farm” elevate the status of an embryo to a point at which it deserves protection? Do we honestly believe that destroying embryos in a sterile laboratory setting is any better?

Surrounded by the children who once were “left-over embryos,” but were adopted through the Snowflakes agency, Bush observed: “They remind us of what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research. They remind us that we all begin our lives as a small collection of cells. And they remind us that in our zeal for new treatments and cures, America must never abandon our fundamental morals” (as quoted in Dalrymple, 2006). Indeed, they are living reminders. Embryonic stem cell research comes with a horrible price—human life. Let us hope the faces of these children remain fresh on the hearts and minds of America as we continue to walk this ethical tight-rope.

REFERENCES

“Michael J. Fox Touts Need for Stem Cell Research” (2006), ABC News, July 19, [On-line], URL: http://www.abcnews.go.com/GMA/Health/story?id=2210355&page=1.

Dalrymple, Mary (2006), “Bush Vetoes Stem Cell Bill as Promised,” Forbes, [On-line], URL: http://www.forbes.com/home/feeds/ap/2006/07/19/ap2890398.html.

“Bush Prepares for First Veto on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Bill” (2006), Fox News, July 20, [On-line], URL: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,204375,00.html.

Fumento, Michael (2006), “Science’s Stem-Cell Scam,” National Review Online, [On-line], URL: http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=YjliM2MwZTU1MzI5NTc2ZWFhNTE1NmMw NzNhZDA3MGM=.

Hall, Carl T. (2006), “A Way Around Dilemmas of Stem Cells,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 15, [On-line], URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/06/15/ MNGRMJEGME1.DTL&feed=rss.news.

Harrub, Brad (2006a), “Hwang Stem Cell Saga Continues,” Apologetics Press, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2814.

Harrub, Brad (2006b), “Nature Attacks Religion,” Apologetics Press, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2981.

Pearson, Helen (2006), “Stem Cell Superpowers Exposed,” Nature, June 14, [On-line], URL: http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060612/full/060612-8.html.

“Recent Floor Activity” (2006), U.S. Senate, [On-line], URL: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bssQuery?&Db=109&stepID=S*&stepD= o&stepD1=20060718.




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