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The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act

Courtesy of the Easter Bunny

John Smith

Nothing illustrates the hypocrisy of compassionate conservatism like President Bush's policy on embryonic stem cells. Soon after the Easter break, the Senate will debate and vote on the 2007 version of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. This latest attempt to resurrect Republican social responsibility has percolated since January. At that time, the House passed identical legislation as part of Nancy Pelosi's First Hundred Hours of the new Democratic Congress.

Since then, six years of lies, mismanagement, and shenanigans helped sidetrack momentum on our country's domestic agenda. The president faces burgeoning scandals at home. His trustworthiness sinks in the oily sands of Iraq. Public skepticism puts a precarious tilt to each iota of his executive behavior. Stem cells wait in the queue as the next embarrassment for the Bush administration.

Congress passed a nearly duplicate bill last July. The president canned it with his first veto. He is determined that federal funds not be allowed for research involving the destruction of human embryos. Apparently, he sees no contradiction with billions of American tax dollars spent which result in the deaths of thousands of U.S. soldiers and innocent victims in Iraq.

The president's 2001 policy on embryonic stem cell research tortures logic. It failed to deliver compassion, common sense, or his "culture of life." He poses as the moral guardian of the excess embryos from in-vitro fertilization clinics. He boasts of preserving the sanctity of life they represent. Yet, in five plus years, this machismo has not saved a single one.

Obviously, it was never about the lives of the embryos. Bush alienated Americans who believe in the hope of embryonic stem cell research in order to garner support from social conservatives. Loyalty at the ballot box reduced the integrity of the scientific debate to DC's lowest common denominator: votes.

The stem cell issue reveals, again, the troubling consequences of obstructing justice for political gain. The justice in question is that sought by millions of citizens with chronic medical conditions. The protracted indifference caused by the Bush policy infuriates families begging for leadership on health-care.

They have reason to be cranky too, for apologists credit the president with creating a compromise on ESCR, even though his policy halted critical federal investment — and, by extension, private investment — into the field of regenerative medicine. Distorted facts and spun messages create an alternate reality on embryonic stem cells. Unheard amidst this din of white (house) noise are the impartial opinions of scientists not associated with the political machine.

Champions of stem cell research promise to pummel the president by re-introducing the legislation over and over. Bush, ever stubborn, vows to quash any alteration to his original bitter brew.


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Next week's debate on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act will highlight this impasse. Senators Coleman, R-MN, and Isakson, R-GA, concocted a decoy bill full of sugar and cream to disguise the awful taste of bad policy. This artless flimflam aims to re-mystify the science with propaganda. Such transparent political cover should add entertainment to the beltway drama.

Those living with severe illness or injury, though, are not amused. These partisan theatrics divert attention from the reality of the lives affected. Fortunately, patient groups enjoy a louder voice with a Democratic majority less tolerant to the dictatorial reign of President Bush. What once was effective at the polls is now dangerous for the GOP. Out of loyalty for the man who would be king, they align themselves with the corruption of Iraq and ignore suffering at home extending across the entire spectrum of the electorate.

Meanwhile, the president waves his magic wand of rhetoric at a bloated health-care system upon which these patient groups must depend. But, like the sorcerer's apprentice, his stem cell policy only makes the problem grow. His endorsement of flat lining the budget of the National Institutes of Health and diverting a third of its resources to bio-terrorism research cripples what was once the world's best paradigm for integration between science, industry, and patient therapies.

Curative research and solutions in the aggregate costs less than indefinite care. This concept escapes the attention of a president distracted with the pursuit of power. He seeks to balance the books for bean counters without solving the underlying fiscal or physical dilemmas. The implication is that belt tightening is the answer. It is not.

The answer lies in a commitment to curing illnesses and relieving secondary complications. Yet the Bush doctrine discourages ingenuity for remedies that could benefit everyone. Humanitarian principles, alone, should trump such absurdities. But the expectation of competent management of America's resources is also relevant…and missing.

The lack of a sensible and merciful science policy has blocked the process of inquiry into human biology. Mankind loses when politics interrupt our natural proclivity for compassion and survival. The science of regenerative medicine — including the use of embryonic stem cells — may be seen as a moral obligation in the fight against considerable suffering.

What our country needs is a double-shot of the scientific method. Anything less and the dollar cost to our nation will be colossal, exceeded only by the cost to our collective conscience.

John Smith is a writer, patient advocate, and postmaster from a small town in Oregon. He serves as a moderator in the Cure and Funding, Legislation, and Advocacy Forums for Care Cure Community. Care Cure is the largest spinal cord injury website in the world and is hosted by Rutgers University.
His website; The Other Side of Broken.

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