Stemming the Hard Sell on Stem Cells

Rich Galen

11/21/2007 10:45:32 AM - Rich Galen

That mouthpiece for the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, the New York Times, reminded us yesterday that it has been "six years since President Bush, in the first major televised address of his presidency, drew a stark moral line against the destruction of human embryos in medical research."

That speech launched a thousand fundraising, political, religious and ethical campaigns for and against using human embryonic stems cells for research in to diseases heretofore considered incurable.

Now, according to yet another channel for Conservative thought in America, the San Francisco Chronicle:

Separate teams of scientists on two continents on Tuesday revealed they have created stem cells from human skin cells - a development that could eventually allow researchers to sidestep the contentious moral issues that have hobbled early studies in the promising field.

As someone who has been beset with heart disease first diagnosed when I was 39 and culminating in bypass surgery in 1998 I have a rooting interest in someone discovering a mechanism whereby I can grow new cardiac arteries.

As much as I would like for that to happen, I have been opposed to the use of human embryos because there is no doubt in my mind it would become an industry preying on young, poor women - pressuring them to become pregnant for the sole purpose of harvesting the resulting stem cells.

Even if you don't believe life begins at conception, you have to agree that would be - at its bare minimum - a repulsive development in the name of science and medicine.

You can read the background on all this. In brief, a technique of taking a human, grown up skin cell and manipulating the genes causes the cell to act like a stem cell - one able to replicate a cell in any organ.

Medical writer Sabin Russell's reporting in the Chronicle had the researcher, Dr. James Thompson, who originally perfected the harvesting of stem cells from embryos in 1995 saying, "The world has changed because of this new result."

This development will be publicly hailed as wondrous news. But in private there will be much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands.

The "world" is much wider than medical research. The "world" also includes all those groups, organizations, PACS, and associations who have created a parallel industry raising money to lobby for or against the use of embryonic stem cells.

They are out of business effective yesterday.

The anti-embryonic stem cell folks will continue to raise money on an "I told you so" message: "I told you that embryos would not have to be sacrificed to this research," and those who agree might well throw another 20 bucks into the envelope to help pay for the victory party.

The pro-embryonic stem cell people will try to make the case that this new development is interesting and promising but "we must not give up the fight to continue research using proven technology." Those who were emotionally invested in embryonic stem cell research may toss the same amount in a different envelope if only to show continued solidarity to the concept.

Lobbyists, fund-raisers, writers, graphic designers, and - dare we say it - consultants will be fired because the money which has been pouring in on each side of this emotional issue will dry up. And quickly.

As we have discussed before, to raise a bunch of money you need a cause. The cause needs to be easily understood. And there has to be an obstacle - preferably one simply defined as a Left Wing obstacle or Right Wing obstacle - to whatever good works you want to proceed or whatever evil you want to halt.

In the stem cell world, Tuesday was Armistice Day and all those profiteers in the embryonic stem cell wars are going to have to find new causes and new enemies.

The professional scolds in the Cause Wars will find new fronts to fight their battles, raise their money, and justify their existence.

As for me, I would like someone to grow me a new Left Anterior Descending cardiac artery.

Soon.