Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, responded only to the underlying pose, with Bush's campaign theme du jour: "Only John Kerry would declare the country to be in scientific decline on a day when the country's first privately funded space trip is successfully completed."
But even in this day, when image and archetype replace substance, it is dangerous to let an actual argument go unanswered: How can we look Reagan's grieving widow in the face and fail to support stem cell research?
In a recent article in the Weekly Standard, Wesley J. Smith points out one inconvenient fact: Alzheimer's is one of the least likely diseases to be cured by any kind of stem cell research. "People need a fairy tale," Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told Washington Post reporter Rick Weiss, explaining why scientists have allowed society to believe wrongly that stem cells are likely to effectively treat Alzheimer's disease.
That's not to say that stem cell research isn't enormously promising. It's not likely to cure Alzheimer's, but there are dozens of other therapeutic uses: Parkinson's, diabetes, Lou Gehrig's disease. Nobody I know is opposed to stem cell research. That's not the issue, let's face it.
The question at hand is this: Are we taxpayers going to pay scientists to create human beings in order to dismember them for research? That is what this debate is about. The John Kerrys of the world are trying to convince us that progress requires that we swallow our misgivings. Is it true? Must we consume our own young to cure disease? Will we traffic in human flesh in order to achieve our dreams? Or do we have enough faith and optimism to believe that there are other ways to make scientific progress against diseases?
Certain bioresearch firms, unable to attract private capital, are beating the drums for taxpayer financing of their firms. "Stem-cell companies bleed cash," as a USA Today reporter put it in 2001, and frankly it is companies who are using stem cells from human embryos that are finding it hard to produce the kind of results that attract investors.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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