Continuing To Propagate The Lie That Is Embryonic Stem Cell Research

When it comes to stem cell research (as with other issues), the Fish Wrapper editors continue to display their burning desire to not let the facts get in the way of their opinions. They demonstrate this desire with today's editorial entitled Multiplying stem-cell research could boost healing all around.

This is not the first (and unfortunately won't be the last) time the DFW editors have trotted out this nonsense. In a similar editorial two days before the November elections, they published a piece about Michael J. Fox's deceitful ads for Claire McCaskill, who was running for the U.S. Senate from Missouri. As I explained in detail, there was no basis in fact for Fox's claims.

However, the Fish Wrapper editors continue to lie about the promise of stem cell research.

I f the 110th Congress moves forward, as planned, to expand stem-cell research, it will be a huge victory for millions of Americans. Sadly, some will no doubt be too preoccupied to celebrate. Either they or a relative suffers from spinal-cord injuries, juvenile diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease or another cruel disorder.

For all these Americans, expansion of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research represents their best, and in many cases their last and only, hope.

Best, last, and only hope? Sounds like we need to review some facts.

Q: How many actual therapies and treatments have been derived from adult stem cells?
A: At least 72

Q: How many actual therapies and treatments have been derived from embryonic stem cells?
A: 0

Princeton professor Robert P. George, who sits on the president's bioethics commission points out:

Embryonic stem cells have not helped anyone. No one knows when, if ever, embryonic cells will be used in therapies at all. Indeed, not a single embryonic-stem-cell-based therapy is even in stage one of clinical trials. That is because the tendency of embryonic stem cells to produce tumors makes it unethical to use them in human beings — even in experimental treatments. By contrast, there are more than 1,000 adult-stem-cell-based therapies in clinical trials.

So tell me again how embryoninc stem cell offer the "best, and in many cases their last and only, hope"?

The Democrats who now control Congress say more research money is one of their top priorities, something they hope to accomplish in their first 100 hours in power.

It actually won't be too surprising if they can do this. The Republicans were almost able to do it when they were in charge of Congress. A bill expanding embryonic stem-cell research passed, but President Bush vetoed it last summer. It was a veto that polls at the time showed the majority of Americans did not appreciate. It's time for the president to reconsider his position, out of respect for the many Americans who have come to their own ethical positions on this issue.

So because more people have decided - against the facts - that it's now okay, President Bush should change course and allow ESCR? That's called moral relativism, and fortunately, this president doesn't practice it, unlike his predecessor.

Few people can be untouched by the humanitarian arguments in favor of expanding the research, but they are buttressed by strong economic arguments.

That's true, but not in the way the editors mean in. What the MSM fails to disclose is that you will find the real reason for the ESCR push; just follow the money. Here are some details as given by Neil Munro in National Journal:

NJ reports that "the media coverage has often missed the pecuniary interests of the scientists who have been prominent in supporting government funding for research into the use of stem cells from human embryos." While such scientists are often prominent faculty members at prestigious universities and public research institutions, they are also often board members and shareholders of biotechnology companies which stand to make hefty profits from ESCR. "They are in short, both disinterested scientists and very interested entrepreneurs," says NJ's Neil Munro in "Mixing Business With Stem Cells".

NJ profiles the potential bias of four leading scientist spokesmen favouring funding of ESCR:
- Thomas Okarma, who has testified repeatedly for federal funding of ESCR, is the CEO of Geron Corp. (market valute $700 million last July) - the market leader in this research. NJ notes that Geron's stock value fell 50 percent, after the Bush Administration began reviewing the Clinton Administration's policy that allowed federal finding for stem cell research.
- Douglas Melton, a leading scientist advocating funding for ESCR "is typically identified in media reports as chariman of Harvard University's department of molecular and cellular biology. However, Melton is also a board member of Curis Inc., a commercial stem-cell company.
- Stanford University's Irving Weissman, who has often urged funding for ESCR, "is also the founder of two companies, SyStemix Inc. and Stem Cells Inc. At Stem Cells - Weissman serves on the board and owns shares."
- Within the National Institutes of Health, Ronald McKay is a prominent supporter of funding embryonic stem cell research, and has been quoted frequently in the media as an NIH scientitst. But he also helped found - and still owns shares in NeuralSTEM Biopharmaceuticals, a company in College Park Md.

NJ points out that the media have been complicit in concealing the bias of these scientists. "Since Jan. 1 these three researchers have been quoted 216 times in the national media" in support of federal funding for ESCR, "but in only 17 citations were they linked to their companies."

The money trail runs deep and involves not only scientists but schools as well. In an account that sounds like a conspiracy theory come to life, Munro reveals:
"Johns Hopkins has a licensing deal with Geron that will give the school some of the company's profits from stem-cell commercialization because a Hopkins scientist, John Gearhart was a co-discoverer of stem cell potential while working with Geron. The other co discoverer, James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin also has a licensing deal that may gain him and his patent holder, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a share of Geron's profits. Thomson and Gearhart, along with McKay and two other researchers, are listed as "special contributors" to an NIH report on stem cells released on July 18. Melton, Weissman, Okarma, and Peck are also cited as contributors to the report which did not disclose any of the contributor's financial interests." And supported funding ESCR.

So in other words, the real benefit of ESCR is the financial benefits for the companies and research institutions, not the patients with the diseases.

In Missouri last fall, the Senate race turned on the issue. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D.-Mo, won her seat in part because of her support for a ballot measure clarifying that state law permits stem cell research. McCaskill's victory, in turn, helped hand the Senate, narrowly, to the D's.

In Missouri, both the ethical and the economic arguments proved compelling. As former Missouri Sen. John Danforth, a Republican, put it last fall, "My entire political career, I voted pro-life, and that is exactly why I favor the stem cell initiative. I believe in saving human life." But Danforth also warned his former constituents that voting to thwart stem-cell research could sabotage Missouri's biomedical industry.

Yet again, just follow the money and the politics.

Perhaps the most outspoken member of the "cures" initiative is none other than the former Missouri Senator John Danforth, the television spokesman of the movement and a self-proclaimed pro-lifer. Senator Danforth's brother, William Danforth, is best known for his 24-year tenure as chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, whose world renowned medical school would benefit heavily from the flow of NIH grants and private dollars into legally protected embryonic stem cell research. The leaders of Missouri's research institutions have argued that banning embryonic stem cell research would undermine Missouri's efforts to build a strong biomedical industry and would damage the University's ability to retain and attract biomedical researchers. Presently, Washington University Barnes-Jewish Medical Center is ranked the 6th best hospital system in the United States and it intends to stay there.

Another major player in the "cures" initiative is Sam Fox, a key Republican fund raiser, who has personally donated 1 million dollars to the Bush campaign and Republican party. Sam Fox, a member of Washington University's board of trustees since 1989, has personally overseen the
University's $1.3 billion capital campaign since its inception in 1998. It is evident that Fox, a graduate of Washington University's class of 1951, wishes to transform his university into a national leader in embryonic stem cell research. Other leaders of Missouri's research institutions have spoken out on embryonic stem cell research as well. Sources in the biotech sector have said that the 2 billion-dollar endowed Stowers Institute in Kansas City has threatened to move to Los Angeles if a constitutional amendment protecting embryonic stem cell research is not passed. Such an initiative is the law in California, which allows patent holders of certain embryonic stem cell techniques to profit heavily from human experimentation.

Governor Blunt, who is committed to pro-life causes, has unfortunately also supported this initiative. Because of the extreme pressure he is under, and the somewhat shady science, he has been led to believe this initiative is both pro-life and good for Missouri’s economy, another issue that Governor Blunt strongly supports. Not everyone in Jefferson City, however, believes that embryonic stem cell research is the answer to Missouri’s economic woes. Governor Blunt’s plans to divert some of Missouri’s assets (i.e. MOHELA) to biotechnology, has many congressmen worried. If an amendment is passed that prevents the Missouri legislature from restricting embryonic stem cell research, then the biotechnology sector would virtually have a free-ride to do whatever it pleases with these appropriations. Such an amendment that ties the hands of our legislators whom we put in office and completely restricts them from limiting any research involving embryonic stem cells would be unprecedented.

But why do Senator Danforth, Sam Fox, and Governor Blunt support the protection of cloning in the Missouri Constitution? The answer is simple: in order for this high-risk investment to succeed (high-risk, because embryonic stem cell research has yet to cure a single person), investors have to be assured that no law would be passed that would restrict embryonic stem cell research. To date, no law has been passed in the Missouri Assembly, although it has been tried. Last year, Representative Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, and Senator Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, both simultaneously introduced legislation that would ban human cloning. Unfortunately, for various reasons, including a veto threat by Governor Blunt, this bill was closeted in both houses of the Missouri Legislature.

So now, in addition to money, the biomedical industry wants to make it so that nobody can stop them from doing research that makes them money, regardless of the (lack of) ethics involved.

In 2001, President Bush curtailed federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, limiting it to some pre-existing lines of embryonic stem cells, many of which later proved to be unusable. This hasn't stopped all research; other nations around the world, at least six states and a number of private philanthropists are scurrying to fill the gap. Nevertheless, the president's unnecessary restrictions on federal funding have left a huge vacuum, holding U.S. researchers back and crushing the hopes of people ravaged by terrible diseases.

Here we go with yet another lie; Bush's restrictions have impeded research here in the U.S. This claim is destroyed by Eric Cohen in National Review Online. In it he shows how even since Bush's policy was set in 2001, scientists in the U.S. still publish much more research on stem cells than in any other country.

The point of the Bush policy, for all its many limitations and drawbacks, is to show that science can proceed without violating human dignity or destroying nascent human life, even if it cannot proceed as quickly and by as many simultaneous routes. The choice it offers is not between science and ethics, but between a devotion to science and health so total that it abandons all ethical limits, and a devotion to science and health balanced and constrained by a respect for human equality and dignity, and committed to a culture of life largely understood.

Opponents of the policy usually avoid taking on that basic ethical principle, and so they have offered up various practical arguments against the scientific utility of the policy: the lines are contaminated, there are not enough to support research, they are causing American researchers to fall behind their foreign counterparts. Being practical arguments, these assertions must stand up to factual scrutiny. And so far, the evidence suggests they mostly do not.

One can make reasonable arguments for a more permissive funding policy; one cannot reasonably claim that the policy is wreaking havoc on American science, or that America is becoming backward because only private dollars or state funds are available for the derivation of stem cells from destroyed human embryos. To make such a claim is not science or even the rational defense of science; it is fundamentalism in the name of science, employing the most unscientific means imaginable: playing with the data to advance one's cause.

So once again, the Fish Wrapper continues to make a claim that is unsubstantiated in light of the cold, hard, facts. It just goes to show that for Portland's Daily Dead Fish Wrapper, ideology is much more important than truth.

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