Imagine if you had the power to end a person's suffering. Would you reach down and lift a person out of their well of misery and suffering? Or would you say, "Sorry, I could have helped you, but it is against my political ideology" -- and walk away?
That is no idle question. It is the politics of cruelty.
What could be more cruel than to condemn a person to lifelong suffering, relieved only by premature death? The only thing worse I can think of would be to perpetrate that crime upon millions, as Republican Senatorial candidate Ron Johnson would cheerfully do to America.
Wisconsin is the birthplace of embryonic stem cell research. Here, in 1998, professor Jamie Thomson came up with the stem cell idea that may cure dozens of diseases and change the world -- unless Senatorial candidate Ron Johnson succeeds in banning the research forever.
For the sake of political advancement, Johnson appears willing to sell out the hopes of cure for suffering children and parents. (He doesn't like health care either, calling Obama's modest but real health insurance, "the greatest single assault on freedom in his lifetime". He also says global warming is a myth, has plans to privatize Social Security, etc., etc..)
Johnson seems almost illiterate scientifically (he described research as "creating life through destroying it," which makes absolutely no sense) but has memorized the Republican phrasebook on stem cell research, and says he only supports adult stem cells and cord blood -- not embryonic.
Why? He says he wants to eliminate the national debt.
Reducing the national debt is an admirable goal, to be sure. Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson is focused on a twig, and ignoring a forest.
He does not seem to have noticed the greatest cause of the deficit: skyrocketing medical costs, three-fourths of which come from incurable (chronic) disease. An estimated one hundred million Americans have an incurable condition. As they never get well, we pay for their expensive care until they die.
This is a mountain of money. In 2009,, chronic disease cost America more than the deficit for that year -- $1.65 trillion dollars for chronic disease; $1.6 trillion for the national debt. No nation can long afford such costs.
What is the best way of lowering medical costs? Curing disease. The polio vaccine not only saved hundreds of thousands of lives, but also vast amounts of money -- an estimated one hundred billion dollars every year -- because we no longer have to pay the polio medical bills.
Johnson also wants to deny embryonic stem cell research because, as he says, it is "morally objectionable" to a portion of the public; i.e. the Religious Right, whose support he craves.
Well, I found the Iraq war "morally objectionable"; does that mean he would have opposed George Bush's invasion, a war which cost us over a trillion dollars so far?
Oh no. Johnson says he would never "grandstand" by objecting to a war opposed by millions of Americans on moral grounds.
War is under no threat from Mr. Johnson; only the sick and suffering and their families need be concerned.
And what about the majority of Americans who feel it is the right thing to save lives and ease suffering, with the help of biological tissues which would otherwise be thrown away? Johnson seems to have no connection to their "moral objections" -- that it would be wrong to deny cure research.
Fortunately, Wisconsin does have a choice.
Senator Russ Feingold is as strong in defense of research for cure as Johnson is in attacking it.
In a recent debate, Feingold said "... Johnson's opposition to using embryonic stem cell research would hurt the state's economy and halt the creation of more jobs in the industry.
"It will destroy one of the greatest job creators in the state," Feingold said, adding the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin were world leaders on stem cell research. Then, turning to speak directly to Johnson, Feingold said, "You are out of touch with the business community in this state... They want stem cell research. This is an attack on Wisconsin business."
Is he right? In California, biomedicine is the business community, a very strong part of it. Here, the research is protected, and biomedicine has already become the number two industry in the state. We even had to pass a law to encourage the education and training of stem cell and biomed workers--because there is a concern there will be more jobs than job applicants.
But jobs are only one aspect of the stem cell support of Russ Feingold.
As he puts it, embryonic stem cell research "could save pain and suffering for millions of people, and the lives of millions more."
Sixteen years ago, my son Roman received a spinal cord injury in a college football game. His neck was broken, and he became paralyzed from the shoulders down. He never complains, and he lives a full life. But I am his father, and I see the hell he goes through, day after day after day.
We passed a law in California named after him, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act, which funded the paralysis cure research currently going to human trials through Geron. Human embryonic stem cells are turned into nerve insulating cells called oligodendrocytes, which will (we hope) help to heal new paralyzed people.
On March 1, 2002, I held in my hand a laboratory rat which had been paralyzed, but which could now scamper around its play area -- and this while my son sat in his wheelchair, a few feet away. I support that research, which Ron Johnson and his politics of cruelty would deny.
As my son Roman Reed always says, "Take a stand with us today. Take a stand in favor of research for cure. Take a stand -- so one day, everybody can."
P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I just went to the online campaign headquarters of Russ Feingold, and contributed the magnificent sum of twenty-five dollars. I would have given more, but I am on Social Security, which Mr. Johnson has not yet had the opportunity to privatize. Hopefully, he never will.
On, Wisconsin! Remember in November! Vote -- and take a disabled friend to the polls!