Democrat candidate Sen. John F. Kerry charges that President George Bush has "turned his back on science" in limiting embryonic stem cell research financed by the federal government. The Kerry campaign rolled out a television ad on the subject, saying that "millions of lives" are at stake. "It's time to lift the political barriers blocking the stem cell research that could treat or cure diseases like Parkinson's," the ad says. "I believe that science can bring hope to our families."
Like so many other issues in this campaign, John Kerry has politicized this one. Through distortion and glossing over of important details, Mr. Kerry demonizes George Bush as some sort of blackheart who ignores a simple solution that will alleviate suffering.Without a proper perspective, one can be taken in by Mr. Kerry’s argument. Here is a little background on stem cells:
Stem cells are cells that have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells for as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each "daughter" cell has the potential to either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.
Stem cell lines grown in the lab provide scientists with the opportunity to "engineer" them for use in transplantation or treatment of diseases. For example, before scientists can use any type of tissue, organ, or cell for transplantation, they must overcome attempts by a patient's immune system to reject the transplant. In the future, scientists may be able to modify human stem cell lines in the laboratory by using gene therapy or other techniques to overcome this immune rejection. Scientists might also be able to replace damaged genes or add new genes to stem cells in order to give them characteristics that can ultimately treat diseases.
Human embryonic stem cells are thought to have much greater developmental potential than adult stem cells.
Please note that last paragraph: “Human embryonic stem cells are THOUGHT to have much greater developmental potential than adult stem cells.” Also note well the qualifiers, such as “might” and “may” that are used in this description. The actual value of embryonic stem cells is still unknown.
So much of this argument is emotional. We are presented with images of people suffering from injuries and disease, like Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox, and we are told that if George Bush would just quit being a SOB, these people and many others can be cured and restored to health. That just isn’t so. While we sympathize with the plight of Mr. Fox, and mourn the loss of Mr. Reeve, the promise that many believe stem cell research will deliver is a far cry from actually being able to help those suffering from these diseases and injuries. At this point it is only a distant possibility, and far from a certainty.