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Battling in the 9th: Jerry McNerney vs. Ricky Gill

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Can you remember the worst pain you ever had?

For me, it was when I broke both arms. I was six years old, and showing off for two girls in our neighborhood playground. Swinging on the swing, higher and higher, I announced that I was going to jump, and did. I fell for what seemed forever, landing face down.

"That was cool!" said one girl; "Do it again," said the other.

"Go get your Mom," I said, "Can't you see I am hurt?"

At the hospital they set my left arm and sent me home.

But a wave of sickening agony sent me back to the doctor again, to have the right arm put in a cast as well. Afterward, I remember lying on our couch in the living room, trying to listen to the radio, but the pain was too great for the words to penetrate.

That was my worst pain -- did you remember yours?

Now, imagine that pain is with you again, and it is not going away.

What does that have to do with Jerry McNerney, Ricky Gill, and California's 9th district seat in the House of Representatives? Hold that thought.

Chronic pain may last "only" 30-60 days -- or it could be with you until you die.

How big is the problem?

According to TIME magazine:

Serious, chronic pain affects at least 116 million Americans each year, many of whom are inadequately treated by the health-care system, according to a new report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The report offers a blueprint for addressing what it calls a "public health crisis" of pain.

The reasons for long-lasting pain are many, from cancer and multiple sclerosis to back pain and arthritis, and the chronic suffering costs the country $560 to $635 billion each year in medical bills, lost productivity and missed work.

Drugs only mask the pain, and bring the risk of chemical dependency. Increased use over time can bring the need for more and more drugs, until finally the choice is between incapacitating pain and a drug-induced stupor.

Some pain, like that of a spinal cord injury, can be so severe it has been described as "like having your skin sandpapered off and gasoline poured on." Others describe a sensitivity so heightened that just breathing on the skin can bring a scream.

Pain with limits is useful. If you touch hot metal, pain warns you to back off, preventing damage. But we don't want pain without limits, so a tap on the wrist could bring agony.

Accordingly, the body has natural nerve brakes it can put on pain, inhibiting the severity of sensation. If those natural inhibitors are missing or damaged in the nerves, the pain can be excruciating, and long-lasting -- neuropathic pain.

What if there was a way to ease that pain?

Democrat Jerry McNerney enthusiastically supports embryonic stem cell research; Republican Ricky Gill apparently does not. His website is silent on that issue. (If Mr. Gill wishes to contact me, and say that he does indeed support embryonic stem cell research, I will be glad to print that.)

But I do not think he will be calling anytime soon. Ricky Gill has accepted the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee, a long-term enemy of the research.

Additionally, his party's presidential platform calls for a ban on embryonic stem cell research, and "Young Gun" Gill has made no attempt to distance himself from that anti-science position.

But what if embryonic stem cells could ease chronic pain?

Katie Moisse of the Medical Unit at ABCNews.com wrote:

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco coaxed mouse embryonic stem cells into becoming mature nerve cells that could bridge gaps in the circuitry that triggers neuropathic pain.

"One of the major causes of neuropathic pain is the loss of inhibitory control at the level of the spinal cord because of nerve loss or dysfunction," said study author Allan Basbaum, chairman of UCSF's department of anatomy. "The idea was to replace or repopulate the spinal cord cells that provide that inhibition."

The results?

From Moisse's article, Basbaum said, "'In four weeks, the animal's condition completely disappeared,' Basbaum said, adding that transplanted 'control' cells that lacked the inhibitory properties of the stem-cell-derived neurons failed to ease the pain."

Granted, there is a long way to go between a little mouse and a full-grown human.

But those cells healed the mice, taking away their pain, so they could relax and enjoy life once more.

Doesn't it make sense that we should find out if the technique works with people as well?

Democrats like Jerry McNerney are 100 percent in favor of such research. He co-sponsored H.R. 8, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act in Congress.

As he puts it:

Embryonic stem cell research offers tremendous promise to end the suffering of millions of patients with cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, spinal cord injuries and other debilitating diseases and disorders. I support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. I am proud that California passed Proposition 71, authorizing the state to spend up to $3 billion in stem cell research over the next ten years. This is a tremendous start, but the federal government must do more.

And Ricky Gill? On the pain of others, he is silent.

He has also committed himself to some Republican ideas that may cause great suffering to the poor and middle class, like his pledge to support a national balanced budget amendment.

Balanced budgets sound nice at first, but if you are going to make huge cuts in social programs, that is a little hard on people like single moms, the disabled, the elderly, poor kids, etc. -- especially if you have pledged to do it without raising taxes on the rich.

Perhaps this is just because Ricky is still very young (25) and was raised in wealth.

According to a recent article from The Record:

Gill lacks even a scintilla of public experience, save his service as an appointed student representative on the state school board when he was in high school. Further, since he graduated from law school earlier this year, he lacks any demonstrated work experience, aside from his campaign claims to have "worked on his family farm" growing up. Gill says, "We need more statesmen in Congress," but even before being elected he has signed the infamous Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge that essentially removes negotiation from the bargaining table. He told The Record's editorial board he would stand by that pledge even if the nation went to war.

For more on Jerry McNerney, click here.