"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

7.19.2006

life is most definitely a gift

Today the president plans to veto the stem cell bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday. Five years ago when I was a Senate intern, this was the big issue. The right brought out its experts to say that using stem cells for medical purposes is tantamount to murder, while the left argued that it was better to use frozen embroyos for something than to throw them away. A whole mess of celebrities and scientists and cute, sick children came in to testify about the potential benefits of the research at this hearing, which was long and sad.

The one thing we all learned that summer is that it's complicated. Any time you mess with life, it's complicated. There are people of good faith on both sides of the issue. The president, because he had the political capital to do so at the time, decided to not really make a decision. He allowed federally-funded research only on existing stem cell lines, which didn't make much sense to me then (either you're for using stem cells or not, right?) , but was an easy political compromise that let him seem to be friendly to both the pro-life and pro-science constituencies in this country.

Problem was, it wasn't that easy. The existing stem cell lines aren't doing so well. And, like the scientists told us that summer, embryonic stem cells are more malleable than adult stem cells and therefore the best for research.

And there are the lingering questions about our society's willingness to create embryos that won't become babies, and about using those embryos for other purposes. And then there's another science question: is it better to fund the research and therefore let the government have control over most of the research through grant provision, rather than letting private grants do whatever they want in this delicate area?

I don't know what the right answer on this is. I think the president is making a big political mistake, because so many Americans support increasing federal funding for stem cell research. I know that Senator Orrin Hatch, who is about as conservative and pro-life as they come, supports stem cell research. I also know that there's a lot to be said for sticking up for a conviction, especially when it deals with setting a precedent on issues having to do with science and the beginnings of life.

Here's what I do know: The scientists who do work on type I diabetes are so close to finding a cure for this nasty disease that is taking its toll on my body. Embryonic stem cells can probably be grown into insulin-producing cells. Without the stem cells, there aren't nearly enough transplantable cells from donors to go around. I don't want embryos created for the sole purpose of a cure. I would be so grateful if there were one sooner rather than later. I wouldn't choose to benefit from it lightly. I hope I have the chance to make that choice.

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