Alas. We've just lost Tim Russert then George Carlin, both felled by cardiac disease. Former Yankee Bobby Murcer died Saturday from complications from a malignant brain tumor. And now the very popular and prototypical nice guy, former White House press secretary and Republican spinmeister Tony Snow succumbed to colon cancer over the weekend. All seemingly untimely, save that for one of my heroes, heart surgery pioneer Michael DeBakey, who just passed away at a mere 99 - still a great loss of a great man, but I digress. I interviewed Snow many times years ago and I so enjoyed his company on the radio. A great guy, a mensch, he was indeed.
And for the record, we'll leave any possible negative comments about Tony's political ideology and leanings for the basement-chained blogger shacking up with her parents. Now's the time to focus on a bigger issue and message that affects all citizens of Mother Earth, not conservatives and/or progressives, but every living human being. Now is the time for this country to wrest control from the death grip evangelical jihadists and wrong-to-lifers have on the administration and American politics and launch a massive effort in the war on disease. Come on, we love wars: wars on terror, drugs, but interestingly, never a war on war. A full-fledged, honest-to-goodness, we're-serious-this-time battle against preventable deaths.
The numbers are Brobdingnagian. The American Heart Association reports that in 2004 alone over 860,000 Americans died from cardiovascular diseases. The American Cancer Society estimated in 2002 that 1500 Americans died per day of cancer. MSNBC reported that more than 26 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer's disease and those numbers are expected to quadruple by 2050. An estimated 24 million U.S. residents have diabetes. Over 250,000 Americans suffer from some sort of irreversible spinal cord paralysis. Each year 50,000 Americans are reportedly diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Enough! Enough. This must stop and end. And each of those mentioned supra could theoretically have benefitted from embryonic stem cell (ESC) treatment.
Now what do all of these have in common? These diseases enjoy the potential of cure or a significant diminution of symptoms if we as a sentient species and we as a country, the repeatedly referred-to "best country on the face of the earth," directed all of our attention and resources to fighting these dreadful diseases, quit the silly interstitial, internecine political kerfuffles and finally told the evangelical jihadists and wrong-to-life sadists to once and for all pound sand. Begone! Let common sense finally rule.
ESC research holds a potential that I feel few really appreciate. Because if they truly did, they would be marching in the streets demanding that 100% of our attention be paid to curing and ameliorating the debilitation of curable disease. ESC research presents a possibility for cure that if ignored or deliberately shelved would be the singularly greatest indicium of an abnegation of human rights and an abjuring of the true meaning of a right to life.
The cost of the war in Iraq is approaching $540 billion. We lost nearly $12 billion in cash somewhere in Iraq. And I mean lost. In 2007, The Guardian reported that "[i]n the year after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 nearly 281 mill ion notes, weighing 363 tones [sic], were sent from New York to Baghdad for disbursement to Iraqi ministries and US contractors." Stop. Get up. Walk around. Let this sink in. And then ask what this could mean to helping the millions of human beings and their families stricken with a disease that could potentially, OK, maybe be cured or helped at best by the incredible rejuvenative powers of the ESC.
These pluripotent cells can differentiate into virtually anything. They don't know what they want to be when they grow up. Read more, please. Become perfunctorily conversant with the very basics, because we as a species must lobby our governments to direct our money towards curing disease.
In Snow's honor, let's pass "Tony's Law." Now. There's no valid reason any more to stonewall what has to be done out of nothing more than human decency and compassion.
Now the hard-nosed, anti-stem cell, radical evangelical jihadist, wrong-to-life (?!), ham-fisted ESC opponent will hijack logic and try this line of hooey on you that an embryo is a human life and as a life must be protected from deliberate creation, harvesting and destruction.
So what is this embryo thingie from which stem cells are extracted? Michael Sandel in The Bo ston Globe writes that "[i]t is not implanted and growing in a woman's uterus. It is not a fetus. It has no recognizable human features or form. It is, rather, a blastocyst, a cluster of 180 to 200 cells, growing in a petri dish, barely visible to the naked eye. Such blastocysts are either cloned in the lab or created in fertility clinics." Yet despite this, the intransigent anti-choicers and obstinate opponents of ESC research remain steadfast and to show the depths of their ignorance, hypocrisy, name it, they refuse to denounce or call for the abolition of in vitro fertilization (IVF) wherein embryos are tossed in the waste bin daily. What's the difference?
I'm certainly not suggesting that IVF should be verboten, but if ESC opponents truly believed in the notion that an embryo is a human being, subject to all protections as a fully viable human being, then they certainly would be against IVF as well. But they're not, so what gives? They simply don't know what they're talking about. Those embryos were abandoned and to be destroyed. Please explain to me why Tony Snow or his family would object to using that which was abandoned for what it contained. Remember, again, IVF labs normally and usually discard embryos that don't "take" or were otherwise not preferred. And do you think that Tony Snow or his family would object to using embryonic refuse to extract that which could save him and return to his family their husband and father?
Don't let the anti-ESC research folks fool you. They suggest that stem cells harvested from umbilical cords and skin cells are just as good, just as useable and are in no way dissimilar to ESC's. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. If non-embryonic stem cells can be used, great. Experts point to the absolute truth that the ESC, because of its pluripotent, undifferentiated state, is the hands-down best form of stem cells. Read the data for yourself.
This isn't a liberal issue. Nancy Reagan, hardly a leftie, urged and back-benched Bush (to no avail) to relent on his pathetic bone thrown to evangelical and wrong-to-life loons. Even John McCain supports ESC research. For now. I think. Even solid antiabortion pols have been pro ESC research, e.g. Bob Dole and Strom Thurmond (N.B. the only person ever to move into not check into a hospital). Even Magic Bullet theorist Senator Arlen Specter (who suffers from Hodgkin's lymphoma) joins the list of ESC research proponents. (Funny how contracting a life-threatening illness miraculously converts you to the potentially miraculous benefits of the ESC). ESC treatment may actually be the silver bullet and we're wasting time.
You see, counterfeit conservatives, fundamentally-faux demented diviners of paleo-conservatism, echo chamber acolytes, cookie-cutter, stenographic Republican martinets, play book, bumper sticker, RNC marionettes - all spout this bull hockey that they support the notion of life. The sanctity and majesty of life. The Christian dream of the absolute and undeniable protection at all costs of all life. Now, I know what you re thinking, what about the death penalty? Well, that's for another story. Then again, what can you expect from these folks when one of their own, the hilarious comedic titan Rush Limbaugh, mocks Michael J. Fox's involuntary gestures, the product of Parkinson's disease, and further suggests that Fox may have adjusted his medication to exploit the disease's symptoms. You know, Rusty, it's interesting to note that ESC research may be efficacious in treating or even curing your deafness. Now if only we can do something about growing you a heart.
Imagine if we could channel via Shirley MacLaine Tony Snow now. Imagine if we asked him what he thought about the idea or notion that perhaps, just maybe, through a federally-funded move to eliminate disease, we could see if we could take a freshly harvested ESC that was to be thrown away and use its pluripotent inclination to be, well, pluripotent, and place it in his body where the cancer that ultimately took him from us was. Let's further imagine or assume arguendo that that ESC used its undifferentiated=2 0cellular "personality" to immediately identify the problem, viz. a rogue cellular formation prone to uninterrupted and undesired replication. Let's assume further that this ESC said à la Winehouse "Oh, no, no, no." Let me wrap my ESC undifferentiated pluripotent tendrils around you and kill you, Mr. Cancer, so that you won't be able to kill Tony.
Quick. What's wrong with that? Assuming it was possible. What's wrong with that?
Taking this idea to its most surreal extreme, perhaps, would Tony object? Would his family? Would Dubya? Who in their right mind would rue the use of a discarded IVF embryo to save a man, a friend, a father, a husband. A human.
Mr. President, I don't want to sound or even appear the slightest Olbermann-ish (I have too much pride and enjoy an emotional ballast), I say this with respect to the office you hold, I implore and entreat you to use the last moment of your wasted administration, seal your legacy, brand history, and sign into law a "Tony's Law" - an absolute commitment to humanity, to health.
Follow Lionel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lionelmedia