Can you imagine a politician who would:
Oppose the healing of the sick?
Support MORE bankruptcies, foreclosures, and a bigger national debt?
Try to weaken the fastest job-growth sector of the economy?
It might seem impossible for such a person to be elected. And yet there are government officials whose policies would advance all of the above.
They are the opponents of embryonic stem cell research.
What? Isn't that argument settled?
It is, and it isn't.
America as a country has long since decided; the argument went on for more than a decade, both sides were heard at great length. The result? The most recent national poll (Harris Interactive) shows 73% support for embryonic stem cell research. Very few issues are supported by such a vast majority: almost three quarters of the country.
Yet a powerful minority still seeks to kill the research.
Does that matter?
Only if we care about home foreclosures, bankruptcies, the national debt, unemployment -- and human suffering.
All these problems are significantly worsened by chronic (incurable) disease.
As you know, our population is living longer today. Modern medicine can keep people alive to seventy, eighty, ninety years of age now -- but it does not cure them. Whatever chronic diseases they may have, they keep, and that means expensive care. This is not just about seniors, either; an estimated one hundred million Americans have chronic diseases; they are alive, but not well -- existing, but not healthy.
So medical bills grow mountainous -- and people lose their homes and go bankrupt.
Inability to pay medical bills is behind roughly half of all bankruptcies, and home foreclosures.
(Read Get Sick, Get Out: The Medical Causes of Home Foreclosures, by Christopher Robertson, et al; also Medical Bankruptcy in the United States by David Himmelstein, et al.)
Unemployment? Think of a factory, which wanted to hire a thousand workers at good-paying jobs; what if the government shut it down, for political reasons?
Now think of biomedicine, perhaps the fastest growing industry in America. In California, where stem cell research is enthusiastically supported, biomedicine is already the number two industry in the state -- and growing so fast, a special law had to be passed (SB 471, Romero, the Stem Cell Research Education and Biomedical Training Act) to make sure there were enough qualified workers to fill anticipated demand.
Those who oppose biomedical research -- are opposing new jobs in a new industry.
And wait, there is still more!
Concerned about the national debt? Adding chronic disease to the national debt is like pouring gasoline on a fire.
In 2009, chronic illness cost America $1.65 trillion -- slightly more than the national debt ($1.60 trillion) for that year.
Arguing about different health care systems will not lower those costs -- only cure research can do that.
Fortunately, science has provided us with what may be the most powerful advance in medical history: human embryonic stem cell research (HESCR for short).
A chance to cure cancer, paralysis, heart disease, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, stroke, brain damage, etc., etc. -- HESCR is something to cheer about.
Yet some politicians -- Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Scott Walker, Terry Branstad, Roger Wicker, Daniel Lipinski -- would ignore or even criminalize the new research.
Would not such men make ideal candidates for an Anti-Science Society?
Consider the most powerful one first, Mike Huckabee, the man who would be President. Did you know he is the number one Republican contender right now?
"...for the 2012 Republican (presidential) nomination there's a clear leader: Mike Huckabee. Huckabee's at 24% to 14% for Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney..." ~ "Huckabee ahead nationally", Public Policy Polling, January 21, 2011
Huckabee supports "personhood", granting full legal rights to every fertilized human egg. This is not a casual thing for him. Huckabee has endorsed personhood bills in Georgia, Colorado, and even one for the entire country, the Human Life Amendment.
According to personhood, full citizenship begins at the instant of conception, when sperm meets egg, even in a petri dish.
Sounds harmless enough, at first.
Personhood has one overriding goal, to end abortion at any stage. Huckabee's website states that he would allow one exception: abortion to save the life of the mother. But that is not the personhood belief; they want termination of any pregnancy (even one caused by rape, incest, or child molestation) to be a criminal act.
This absolute denial of a woman's right to control her own body is just the beginning.
Personhood would also ban the In Vitro Fertility (IVF) assisted parenthood procedure which has allowed over a million babies to be born.
Personhood would even ban birth control pills--and embryonic stem cell research.
Personhood is so extreme that major anti-abortion groups oppose it, as does the Catholic Church.
The more people learn about this radical position, the more they shake their heads in disbelief.
In Colorado, where the movement was born, the Personhood Amendment was studied, debated -- and rejected -- twice. Both times, it was crushed, with 72% voting against it.
In fact, in the largest county in the state, (Denver County) the Personhood Amendment attracted only slightly more votes than a bill to prepare to meet outer space monsters! (No, I am not making that up...)
--"Personhood initiative only slightly more popular with Denver voters than space-alien commission", John Tomasic, The Colorado Independent, 11/05/2010
Why would any candidate endorse such an extreme position?
For the former Baptist minister, it is probably a religious conviction. His church does not like embryonic stem cell research, just as other religions oppose blood transfusions and vaccinations. That is fine for him, but I object to his religious opinions being imposed on the rest of us. If cure comes from HESCR, Huckabee-ites are at liberty to refuse it; but they must not have the power to deny cure to my family, or yours.
Candidate number two for my imaginary Anti-Science Society?
Newly-elected Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is in hog heaven now, precisely because of his anti-science manipulations. With an ultra-conservative Republican rubber-stamp legislature behind him, the former Senator can sign any law the ideological mind can invent. Anyone curious about a pure Republican state should keep track of Kansas -- no Democrats need apply.
But there was a time when nobody knew who Sam Brownback was.
Until he discovered cloning. He built name recognition around a single manufactured crisis -- be afraid, be very afraid -- on and on he thundered about the evils of cloning.
Brownback seldom mentions the good kinds of cloning: when gardeners clone by cutting slips off plants; when police lab specialists clone DNA evidence; or when better foods are made cheaper through bio-agricultural cloning.
Mr. B. fixates on human reproductive cloning -- useless, dangerous, and non-existent -- and therapeutic cloning for stem cells, which may one day save lives and ease suffering.
Both methods begin with a no-sperm, no-womb blastocyst. A human egg and a bit of skin are combined, a microscopic dot in a Petri dish. This is shocked with electricity, left in salt water five to seven days -- after which the stem cells are removed.
That is therapeutic cloning. It is technically difficult (no one has succeeded in making a stem cell line by it) but may help re-grow damaged portions of the body. Made from the patient's own physical tissues, cells made that way would presumably not be rejected by the immune system. Right now, transplants of livers or other body parts are often unsuccessful. Without a perfect match, the body often rejects the new organ.
That is the good kind. But there is another kind of cloning, which all agree should not go forward. Reproductive cloning means to try and make a baby to take that same blastocyst and insert it into a woman's womb, like a human Dolly the sheep.
Nobody wants that. In California, it is prohibited by law, and rightly so. It would endanger the life of the woman and the potential child. To the best of my knowledge, no scientific organization in the world supports human reproductive cloning.
The two kinds of cloning are as different as the light bulb and the lightning bolt -- one lights our homes, the other starts forest fires -- most people can appreciate the difference.
Sam Brownback wants to criminalize both. He has championed a national law to put scientists in jail for ten years (plus a million dollar fine) for either kind of cloning.
Personally, I think the man should be grateful to cloning -- it got him where he is today!
Nominee number three for the Anti-Science Society? Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin apparently hopes to drive HESCR out of the state where it was invented.
During the 2010 campaign, Walker reportedly told an anti-abortion group that he would sign a bill to ban embryonic stem cell research. Later a reporter asked him why he would consider such a thing.
Walker replied that scientists agreed that adult stem cell research had more potential than embryonic.
Nobody questions that adult stem cells are legitimate, and valuable; they are with us all our lives, forming scars when the skin is cut: very useful for minor repairs of the body. But are they superior to embryonic stem cells, which grow every organ of your body?
Is Walker correct that scientists agree that adult stem cell research has more potential?
Look at the evidence. During the attempt to increase federal funding of HESCR, via the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Acts of 2003 and 2007 (Castle/DeGette), scientists made their opinion clear. Literally hundreds of groups -- science, medical, patient advocate and educational -- supported the funding of embryonic stem cell research.
How many scientific groups supported the adult-stemcells-are-all-we-need position, espoused by Governor Walker? Not one. Only seventeen groups opposed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act--and every one was an ideological organization.
Anti-Science Society nominee number four: new Iowa Governor Terry Branstad appears eager to impose anti-stem cell restrictions. He wants to bring back Iowa Code 707B, a prohibition on advanced stem cell research. The previous governor, Chet Culver, removed it, sending a message of support to scientists. Branstad's reversal would send a very different message to Iowa scientists (and they have some great ones) that they are no longer welcome in the state -- the Branstad re-imposition of Iowa Code 707B would be a giant leap backward.
Number Five is a big name in the anti-science movement: Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi: Wicker is not only a huge supporter of the Personhood movement, currently advancing in Mississippi, but is also co-author of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, that infamous un-debated clause annually inserted into must-pass legislation, currently being used as "justification" to sue America, trying to shut down all federal funding of HESCR.
Number six and last is Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, the only Democrat nominee for the Anti-Science Society on today's list. What has he done to deserve this recognition?
Of the entire 435 member House of Representatives, in the key vote on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (passed twice by House and Senate, vetoed by George Bush) only 16 Democrats said no to the research -- and among these few was Daniel Lipinski.
Lipinski also authored what I consider a highly deceptive bill, the "Patients First Act", H.R. 2807. His legislation was developed with the cooperation of the Family Research Council, arguably the most powerful Religious Right lobbying organization in the country, and was also approved by the George Bush White House.
About as "pro-patient" as a cobra in a hospital bed, the Lipinski effort would have permanently stacked the deck against embryonic stem cell research, "prioritizing" National Institutes of Health grants in favor of adult stem cell research.
Speaking in response to the Lipinski bill, Sean Tipton, then President of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, had this to say:
"...what the sponsors of this legislation and politicians like them are trying to do is to appear that they are for stem cell research when they oppose what's thought to be the most promising form -- embryonic stem cell research."
Does America still need embryonic stem cell research?
Yes, absolutely. There are new ways now to derive stem cells, but the highest compliment that can be paid to any of them is that they are "just as good as embryonic" -- and so far, to the best of my knowledge, none of them are at that level yet.
One day, perhaps, induced pluripotent stem cells, or nuclear transfer, or direct programming or an as-yet-undiscovered method will supplant HESCR.
But science should be the judge of that, not politics. American families deserve the best medical treatment science can provide. For that to happen, freedom of inquiry must be upheld, so we can know for sure what works best.
We need to know where our leaders stand, on the issue of regenerative medicine. Personally, I could not vote for a person who opposes embryonic stem cell research. Why would I support someone who might deny my paralyzed son Roman his chance of ever walking again, or prevent my two sisters from being free of the fear of cancer?
Of course, democracy works both ways: those who oppose medical research are free to vote for the likes of Huckabee, Brownback, Branstad ,Walker, Wicker, Lipinski, et al.
But the anti-science folks should really organize a club, make some fun out of it.
Opponents of stem cell research could meet once a month and share their most effective misleading media message: their most creative propaganda. They have a lot to choose from -- like the picture of a baby they put up on the screen when they talk about stem cells, implying experiments on children, although there are no babies involved in stem cell research; or the actor in cow costume they used in Missouri TV ads to try to block stem cell research rights, implying a cow-human species nobody ever heard of; or the 72 cures from adult stem cells which do not exist but make great sound-bites.
The anti-science club could have competitions and awards: which politician does the most to block cure research funding, which new laws could arrest the most scientists, how many biomedical jobs were driven out of a state -- compare their accomplishments.
But they need a name for their organization, something which captures the true flavor of their endeavor.
Flat Earth Society? No, that is already taken. Apparently there are folks who still genuinely believe if your boat sails out far enough you will fall off the edge of the world.
I suggest a more simple title: clear, direct, easy to remember: the Anti-Science Society.
Or A.S.S. for short.
Follow Don C. Reed on Twitter: www.twitter.com/diverdonreed