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Rush Limbaugh and the California Stem Cell Program

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Rush Limbaugh has some ugly things to say about the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which he regards as "nothing."

To me, the CIRM is the greatest advance in the history of world medicine.

We'll get to both opinions in a moment.

But first, Mr. Limbaugh's view on embryonic stem cell research.

He says these stem cells come from abortions.

"... using embryonic stem cells...I'm telling you, and I have from the get-go, who is behind this--is the--the militant pro-abortion crowd, because you need abortions to get these..."

-Rush Limbaugh, July 19, 2006 (emphasis added).

This is, of course, nonsense. Without a pregnancy (and there are none in embryonic stem cell research), how can there be an abortion?

This is not rocket science. Most people are clear on the birds-and-bees basics.
To make a baby, the sperm and egg unite, forming an embryo inside the mother's womb. Without that nurturing shelter, it is biologically impossible to make a child.

In embryonic stem cell research, there is no implantation in the womb, no womb, no pregnancy--no baby--so how can there possibly be an abortion?

Mr. Limbaugh also had comments to make about champion stem cell research advocate Michael J. Fox, a Parkinson's disease sufferer:

"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease...He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act...This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox."--"Rush Limbaugh On the Offensive Against Ad With Michael J. Fox", David Montgomery, Washington Post, October 25, 2006.

One of my Parkinson's friends described the condition as like being slowly buried alive. The body's coordination is gradually taken away, so you get worse, not better. Sometimes the body shakes, sometimes it freezes into immobility. Parkinson's patients may lose the ability to speak, and finally, to breathe.

"Shameless?" Indeed.

Now, Mr. Limbaugh's thoughts on the California stem cell program, formerly the initiative Proposition 71 (He begins by citing an editorial):

"Five years after a budget-busting $3 billion dollars was allocated to embryonic stem cell research, there have been no cures, no therapies, and little progress...backers of Prop 71 are admitting failure...This is from an Investor's Business Day editorial...This is what happens when you make science a political issue. You end up with fraudulent, fake, politically-oriented causes that have nothing to do with science, and everything about it ends up being a lie. Nothing. $3 billion, no cures, no therapies, no progress...."

-Rush Limbaugh, January 13, 2010

What a gush of misinformation.

He does not even take the trouble to get his numbers right. California has allocated
$1 billion so far, not three. This is a long program, and the money will be allocated gradually over the course of about fourteen years, or longer. (Decisions on selling bonds to fund the program are made by a committee: the State Treasurer, the controller, the director of finance, the chair of the California stem cell program's board of directors and two members appointed by the chair.)

The "five years" of the program? He is half-right. The program began five years ago--but lawsuits from the religious right and anti-tax advocates denied voter-mandated funding for more than two years. He is condemning an effort which has barely begun.

In his eagerness to attack government funding of medical research, Limbaugh ignores the careful step by step progress the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has made--almost entirely during the Presidency of an opponent of the research.

Small (only 46 employees) but unstoppable, in its thirty months of funded existence, the CIRM has initiated educational programs, hired scientists, begun the construction of laboratories, generated 400 scientific papers, reached out to the new industry of biomedicine, and developed a team approach toward the alleviation of suffering.

We--for this is California's program, and America's--are using embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) as a primary weapon in this fight. No less than four chronic diseases have been targeted with the escr approach. We will choose the best form of regenerative medicine ethically and legally available, whether adult, embryonic, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT, sometimes called therapeutic cloning, but for cells, never to make babies, which is illegal by the terms of Prop 71) or various forms of skin-cell reprogramming, the new induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells--we support full stem cell research, chosen for its value as the best science for the job, not for political ideology.

We are fighting for people: like my paralyzed son Roman Reed, and 32 million Americans with a serious disability*; like my sister Barbara who has cancer, one of 100 million citizens with chronic disease**. These are not statistics. They are our loved ones, and politics must not block research which might heal or alleviate their suffering.

As a conservative, Mr. Limbaugh is undoubtedly (and rightly) concerned with the federal deficit.

Here is one statistic that should interest him:

Last year, chronic disease cost America $1.65 trillion dollars--roughly equivalent to the year's entire federal deficit.

Chronic disease and disability: that is what our feisty little state agency is up against, medical maladies considered incurable since the dawn of humankind.

At stake are millions of lives, and the financial well-being of our nation.

The California stem cell program is taking on this gigantic challenge.

And the world will benefit.

By Don C. Reed

*(According to the U.S. Census, roughly one in ten Americans (32.5 million) lives with a continuing and severe disability.

**(Estimates of the numbers of Americans with chronic illness run as high as
109 million
, as per the Milken Institute.

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