From California comes an interesting bit of news on the Bush-era controversy surrounding embryonic stem cell research.
Remember stem cells? That was a red-hot issue in the previous decade, as it had all the hallmarks of the classic left-wing meme; the Luddite Christians standing in the way of a glorious scientific revolution due to their quaint and obsolete notions on abortion and their overheated morality.
The facts were inconvenient pebbles in the road of that discussion, as the Bush administration spent more money on stem cell research than all its predecessors combined; the president objected on moral grounds to the widespread use of embryonic stem cells, however, and asked that the focus of federally-funded stem cell research be on adult stem cells. Bush was pilloried as absolutist and neanderthal by the pro-abortion Left for his stance. Things got so bad that in the 2004 election that Democrat vice presidential candidate, recurring National Enquirer poster boy and general obnoxious cad John Edwards made the breathtaking accusation that but for Bush’s intransigence, paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve (since deceased) would walk again.
According to an Investors Business Daily piece this week, the former president had science, as well as morality, on his side.
While Bush was blocking federal National Institutes of Health funds from fueling embryonic stem cell research, an initiative in California – Proposition 71, otherwise known as the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative – was passed by a 59-41 referendum in 2004. Prop 71 established a massive $3 billion California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to push embryonic stem cell research. The plan had the backing of most of Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the new governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; it was opposed by the Catholic Church and the Christian Right – including that nutty Mel Gibson – and the usual pro-life groups decried as mouth-breathers by the Left.
Five-plus years later, the results are in. Adult stem cells can produce results, while embryonic stem cell research is a dead end. As the IBD article states:
Supporters of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, passed in 2004, held out hopes of imminent medical miracles that were being held up only by President Bush’s policy of not allowing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) beyond existing stem cell lines and which involved the destruction of embryos created for that purpose.
Five years later, ESCR has failed to deliver and backers of Prop 71 are admitting failure. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state agency created to, as some have put it, restore science to its rightful place, is diverting funds from ESCR to research that has produced actual therapies and treatments: adult stem cell research. It not only has treated real people with real results; it also does not come with the moral baggage ESCR does.
Prop 71 had a 10-year mandate and by 2008, as miracle cures looked increasingly unlikely, a director was hired for the agency with a track record of bringing discoveries from the lab to the clinic. “If we went 10 years and had no clinical treatments, it would be a failure,” says the institute’s director, Alan Trounson, a stem cell pioneer from Australia. “We need to demonstrate that we are starting a whole new medical revolution.”
The institute is attempting to do that by funding adult stem cell research. Nearly $230 million was handed out this past October to 14 research teams. Notably, only four of those projects involve embryonic stem cells.
Another example of the forward progress with adult stem cells compared to the dead end with the embryonic variety came from yesterday’s Baton Rouge Advocate – TCA Cellular Therapy, LLC, a Covington-based firm, has won FDA approval for a clinical trial using adult stem cells to treat Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s one of 73 treatments currently being tested or utilized involving adult stem cells; at present there are none using the embryonic variety.
Going even further than the IBD article is Joe Carter at the First Things Blog, who essentially characterizes advocates of embryonic stem cell research as kissing cousins with the anthropogenic global warming crowd:
Advocates of ESCR preyed on the scientific and ethical illiteracy of the general public to support the massive funding of this speculative research. The complexity of the issue and the peculiar terminology used often prevented many citizens from developing a fully informed opinion on the matter. They relied on the “experts” and the ESCR supporters took full advantage of this trust by making claims that had no basis in reality. As Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said in 2004 about the claims that ESCR could lead to cures for Alzheimer’s, “To start with, people need a fairy tale. Maybe that’s unfair, but they need a story line that’s relatively simple to understand.”
The lesson here is that taxpayer dollars get wasted and the political culture is poisoned when hucksterism is disguised as science – and then presented as the government-sponsored path to a Brave New World if only the religious or otherwise conservative crowd would shut up. It happened with embryonic stem cell research, it happened with anthropogenic global warming, it’s happened countless times before and it will happen again.