Congress is intent on launching an expensive balloon full of hot air promises.
"There's Emerald City! Oh, we're almost there at last! At last! It's beautiful, isn't it? Just like I knew it would be! He really must be a wonderful wizard to live in a city like that!" But as all who've seen The Wizard of Oz know, Dorothy's initial opinion was wrong.
This classic tale for children is instructive, however, especially for those in Congress intent on extending federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) beyond what the Bush administration has done. The funding balloon is inflated with promises of cures for diseases and new organs for replacement that defy research reality.
Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former executive director of the President's Council on Bioethics, disputes this assumption in his Jan. 19, 2007, New York Times op-ed: "The Bush administration has spent more than $100 million on embryonic stem cell research in the past six years; the research, while promising, remains purely speculative; and American scientists hold a huge and steady lead that no other country comes close to challenging."
We all felt compassion for the plight of Dorothy and her three friends who were off to see the Wizard: The Scarecrow needed a brain, the Tin Man needed a heart, and the Cowardly Lion needed courage - a spinal cord, so to speak.
Well-intentioned people and yellow brick roads can take you to people you don't want to know and to places you don't want to go. The "good" Witch of the North, Glinda, tells Dorothy that she has to see the Wizard in order to get back home. Glinda advises her to "just follow the Yellow Brick Road."
After meeting the Scarecrow, Dorothy becomes hungry and spots an apple tree orchard. However, when she tries to pick an apple, she discovers these are not ordinary apple trees - they talk. They say bothersome things like, "How would you like to have someone come along and pick something off of you?"
Congress wants to take us down a Yellow Brick Road at taxpayer expense.
Proponents of ESCR consider acceptable the destruction of human embryos after we extract their cells. Unlike Munchkinland, however, there are no talking embryos to prick a conscience. ESCR fans should heed the signpost outside the Haunted Forest on the way to the Witch's castle, which warns, "I'd turn back if I were you!"
It was the Wizard who, after their initial visit, told Dorothy and her friends that she had to bring him the Wicked Witch's broom in order to get what they wanted. When they return with the broom, Dorothy's dog, Toto, knocks over the Wizard's screen, exposing him as a befuddled and powerless little man. And after all they'd been through, he couldn't provide a heart to the Tin Man, a spine to the cowardly lion or a brain to the scarecrow.
By appropriating millions of federal dollars to ESCR instead of adult stem cell research (ASCR) with proven results, Congress is delaying real hope and real cures for suffering people. If ESCR is as promising as the claims, drug companies would invest their own money in it, rather than asking Congress for ours.
After promising Dorothy he could get her back to Kansas in his hot air balloon, the Wizard launches it without her. When Dorothy screams for him to come back, he shouts, "I can't come back! I don't know how it works!" The congressional wizards should be so honest.
Once the door to unethical scientific experimentation is opened, monstrosities materialize. The cloning of lab animals has led to spontaneous abortion and terrible abnormalities.
Once the federal funding balloon is launched for ESCR, it will be even more difficult to keep the cloning balloon tethered to terra firma. If Congress doesn't intend to permit human cloning, it should have banned it by now. Instead, the House of Representatives voted down an amendment to H.R. 3, the ESCR funding bill, which would have banned cloning.
Children's tales need happy endings, and happiness abounds at the end of Oz. The Scarecrow has a brain, the Tin Man's heart is beating, the Lion is courageous and Dorothy is chanting, "There's no place like home" after clicking together her ruby slippers.
Dorothy's friends achieved their dreams of wholeness from within themselves. Likewise, by using stem cells found in our own bodies, rather than embryos, we can find cures for diseases and injuries. Nobody has to die.
For example, a California man's symptoms of Parkinson's disease have largely disappeared after doctors treated him with stem cells from his own brain. At last count, ASCR has shown promise in treating nearly 70 diseases.
The following sources of stem cells have been identified, as cited in The Whole Truth about Stem Cell Research, by William L. Saunders, Jr., and Charles A. Donovan:
Fat: transformable into cartilage, muscle and bone;
Bone marrow: transformable into smooth muscle, cardiac tissue, neural cells, liver, bone, cartilage and fat;
Neural tissue: can differentiate into skeletal muscle and all neural cell types;
Skeletal muscle: transformable into skeletal myotubes, smooth muscle, bone, cartilage and fat;
Dental pulp: transformable into tooth structures;
Placenta: can be induced to form bone, nerve, cartilage, bone marrow, muscle, tendon and blood vessels.
ESCR advocates in Congress "don't know how it works," yet they are intent upon taking us down the Yellow Brick Road from which we will never "come back."
If you want real hope and help for those suffering from disease or in need of organ replacement, tell Congress to launch its funding balloon in the right direction - toward ASCR. Tell them that the destruction of innocent human life is a road on which "I'd turn back if I were you!"