STEM CELL RESEARCH

Would it surprise you to know that
George W. Bush is all for it?
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UPDATE -

You know, between things like looking the other way in regards to education (I'm thinking Kansas) - and throwing his support toward vile "follow my conscience" pharmacist scumbags who let their personal morals determine what life saving medicines a doctor can prescribe to his/her patients, its pretty damn hard to support the idea of our president as anything that smacks of intelligent.

Superstitious? Or sure. I'd believe that. Determined, honest, steadfast? I'm willing to swallow all of that. But intelligent? Nahh, I can't buy it.

That doesn't mean he's stupid, just not intelligent - at least in any demonstrable way he's chose to reveal.

Oh well, some of our best presidents have been articulate but simple folk - Abraham Lincoln
Or spoiled and happy freewheelers - John F. Kennedy
Or both - Ronald Reagan

But while I question Bush's intelligence, at the same time, I also question his many detractors who pretend to be smarter than him when, in fact, they haven't got a single freaking clue as to what they're talking about.

To be accurate: There is no ban on Stem Cell research in the United States of America. And what's more, Bush isn't pushing for a ban on stem cell research.

To be specific: Bush isn't pushing for laws or regulations banning embryonic stem cell research. He is only banning federal funding to embryonic stem cell research outside of the 21 lines already in existence (we already have them, why not use them?) and he can only do that with the consent of the Senate and the House of Representatives. In fact, Bush allowed government funding of embryonic stem cell research - those 21 lines. Clinton refused to do it. Clinton had "ethical and moral" questions on the subject and flat out said no. What's more, he asked Congress - and got - them to pass a bill all the way up to him, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, and he signed it into law. ^

(How did Bush get around the law? An Executive Order can't rescind a law.

The 21 embryonic stem cell lines that Bush allowed existed before the law was enacted. The law said no more embryonic stem cells can be harvested using federal funds. Bush didn't push to change the law. ~)

And yet, political commentators and cartoonists are saying something entirely different. Are they knowingly lying, or not bothering to read the news?

It's important to know who these people are, if I'm going to talk about this subject.

So to be frank, I'd like to mention some of their names right now.

Vic Harville, Arkansas News Bureau

John Deering, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (what the hell is it with Arkansas?)

Mike Lane, of the Baltimore Sun

Kevin Kallaugher, The Baltimore Sun (what the hell is it with the Baltimore Sun?)

Jeff Stahler, of the The Columbus Dispatch

Gary Markstein, Copley News Service

Mike Keefe, and here, and here, of the Denver Post (three times at least. I'm starting to think that this guy may be truly ignorant of current events)

Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Mark E. Cohen, Freelance political cartoonist (he actually refers to his work as SmartArt! HA! email this "smart artist" at smartart@comcast.net)

Jeff Danziger, Los Angeles Times

Steve Sack, and here, and here, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Another three timer. It can't be ignorance. I'm sure these folks just don't have enough room to write "Embryonic")

J. D. Crowe, The Mobile Register

Drew Sheneman, The Newark Star Ledger

Olle Johanson, Norra Vasterbotten

Don Wright, The Palm Beach Post

Tim Menees, Pittsburgh, PA

Ed Stein, Rocky Mountain News

Steve Breen, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Mark Streeter, The Savannah Morning News

Christo Karminitski, Sega (Sofia, Bulgaria)

Bill Schorr, United Media

and of course, the consistent "last horse out of the gate", who doesn't draw anything until he is absolutely sure that his peers are solid in their position before he adopts it:
Paul Conrad, The Los Angeles Times (and here). Paul frequently gets around to drawing his "biting social commentary" up to three years after it stopped being news.

All of these folks, who are actually paid for their "political savvy", still don't understand that president George Bush is NOT against stem cell research and is NOT making any regulations, laws, withholding government money, or anything else. To the contrary, he is all for it. Bush is specifically against harvesting EMBRYONIC stem cells. Which is a small percentage of stem cell research and the only one which has yet to show any use. Oh it offers LOTS of potential! LOADS of promise - no use yet.
"But isn't there a limit to how many ways you can use other forms of stem cells?"
That's the hypothesis, although research continues to open up new vistas. In fact, the limit hasn't been reached.
"But don't embryonic stem cells have more flexibility?"
That's the idea, though 45+ years of research has yet to be fruitful.

Of course, Most folks only count back to 1985. That's when the ball on all sorts of Stem Cell research really got rolling. So to read the pro embryonic stem cells supporters say it, "After 20 years we still haven't demonstrated that embryonic stem cells can actually DO anything yet, but by golly ... uh! But! ... uh! EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS!!! THEY WILL SAVE US!!!

MTV sez they are the shiznit!"

And, so far, utterly useless.

Now before I get into stem cell research, understand that, like Bush, the political cartoonists mentioned above aren't stupid, just uninformed or ignorant or they don't care because Republican. I laugh at their ignorance but that's only because they are cartoonists. Of course, for some of them to keep writing about it like they actually KNOW what they are talking about (Steve Sack, Mike Keefe), could be considered stupid, or at least willfully ignorant.

Naturally, they could defend themselves like Michael Moore with a disingenuous rolling shrug of the shoulders and a smirking "Hey, hey, man! It's just comedy! How can comedy be wrong?"

But here are the facts -

As of this writing there are two types of stem cells. Embryonic and Adult. Adult includes stem cells taken from a fetus. To be an embryonic stem cell, it has to be an embryo. But within the Adult stem cell types there are many sub categories or forms.

Many forms of Stem Cells are demonstrating real world uses Right Now, and have done so for years. Stem cells culled from bone marrow, skin, human umbilical cord, and so on.

*
You can donate your stem cells to others too! You can even set aside your own stem cells for up to 10 years in case of an emergency down the road!

It's a really painful procedure. It makes getting a root canal seem as mild as cotton candy. But this is a humanitarian moral issue, so you don't care about the pain, right?

In fact, stem cells show the greatest amount of success (so far) when they come directly from the person who needs them. And while a doctor can retrieve up to millions of your stem cells from your marrow and other areas of your body*, or possibly millions from the placenta or umbilical cord of a newborn baby (aka human stem cells as opposed to those damn mouse cells) the same cannot be said for embryonic stem cells.

To retrieve a million different human embryo stem cells, you'd need, well, one million different human embryos from one million different women in any given month!+ Unless you were going to try and harvest both of a woman's embryos at the same time (the average adult woman has about 300,000 embryos in her ovaries), thereby setting her hormones and metabolism out of whack. You see, women actually have to have their monthly period and that requires at least one embryo. So you need to either

A: get one million cells from one million women - one hell of a daunting task - or

B: Get x amount of cells and then wait - for a month - to get another one. When yer talking about one million embryonic stem cells, time becomes a factor.

Wait! A week old embryo has about 100 cells. It's called a Blastocyst and that's where they get more than one cell!

That's correct. But scientists can only retrieve the Undifferentiated inner blastocyst cells - anywhere from two to 10 tops. The rest of the blastocyst, the embryo, is destroyed in the process. The cells that were retrieved have to be inspected one by one to make sure they are healthy. This further lowers the expectation of finding enough cells (you need more than a single one to create a stem cell "line"). It is common to have all of the cells thrown away and start fresh with another embryo. So we're still talking removing all of a woman's much needed embryos.

SIDEBAR

Now consider huge corporations which would need to keep harvesting fresh embryonic stem cells to stay in business, their company growing, their shareholders happy, and continue with Research and Development to beat out the competition.

How do you feel about the ethics of major corporations who only see profit as the bottom line?

Well, how do you feel about pharmaceutical corporations?

How do you feel about the various blood and plasma companies, in the 1980s and 1990s, that chose to NOT properly screen their "stock" for AIDS? Now imagine embryonic stem cell companies shipping their operations to a third world country renown for human rights abuses - like China. The corporate criminality of huge companies like ELF, Enron, Tyco, and Adelphia can't touch that kind of horror.

Perhaps you'd rather trust that kind of research and implementation to governments? How do you feel about state governments that are competing against other states to get that kind of business - and the jobs it brings - into their state? Like California? Maybe we should leave it to the federal government? How much do you trust your federal government and a value system that changes every two to four years? How about the UN overseeing everything? Ugh! You haven't learned anything from the skin crawly actions of UN leaders in Bosnia, Croatia, Iraq, and the Sudan (so far but still counting)?

These are all just idea scenarios a horror writer could explore. But please know what the hell you are talking about before you do.

+
Upon adulthood, a woman is left with about 300,000 egg cells (oocytes) in her ovaries. Enough for a lifetime as she'll likely only produce about 400. When a woman is born, her body has up to millions of egg cells, but her body also uses them (we aren't sure exactly how and why), so that by the time she's over puberty, she only has 300,000 and that number keeps dropping at a faster rate than her body disposes of them via menstration.

Modern medical science can force her body to release thousands of her stored egg cells at one time. It requires drug treatment and it's risky to the woman's health - even life - and a woman should never do it more than once in a year, but it can be done. Even if drugs unnaturally force her body to release up to 20,000 eggs in one month, a woman's ovaries will not produce more egg cells.

This would cut the number of women needed every month from a million to tens of thousands. Of course, that's assuming that the government and corporations would only want a million embryos a month, as scientists are in competition with each other regardless of funding. Between research and treatment (consider just how small these cells are and how many are needed per treatment), tens of billions per month are more likely.

So how successful could you be if we actually put such an infrastructure in place?

Well, back in 2004 we did.

How successful was it? Because of all the ballyhoo, Senator Arlen Spector (Republican - Vermont) and Senator Tom Harkin (Democrat - Iowa) set up an Embryo Adoption Program in 2004. As of July, 2005, they've "adopted" 100 embryos.

That's 100 women.

100 embryonic stem cells a year.

And do you know what all is involved in getting that single embryo from the woman?

It's not comfortable.

Let me put it another way for the guys: Imagine the scientist wanting to remove some of your sperm via a needle inserted directly through to your testicle.

Ahem.

You know, for a research path that, after 45+ years, has yet to show any success, that seems a tad impractical.

Now put a price tag on that because no women have stepped forward to do this for free.

100 precious embryonic stem cells voluntarily given up for "adoption". We're going to have to start paying women for their embryos. And they need to be VERY healthy women too.

Could you afford that? Who could afford that? Who is this embryonic stem cell fight really for? Who would it really benefit?

Can you really see all the poverty stricken children in wheelchairs that many of these cartoonists like to flaunt, having the financial resources to pay for even one hundred embryonic stem cells? Because for any stem cell treatment to work, it takes Tens of Thousands of Stem Cells.

This is a seriously expensive, labor intensive, and health damaging (on the part of the donor) procedure.

When stem cell research began, it was a relatively even playing field. Politicians and investors didn't really understand stem cells or the difference from one to the other (like many news publishers, editors, reporters, protesters, and political cartoonists today), and so threw their support behind everything.

Then, in the 1990s, there was the idea that you could extend the human stem cell lines by mixing in non-human stem cells (mouse for example) in with human ones and get the same results. Right? Hey, they're just a bunch of raw undifferentiated stem cells and we can tease them until they give up and become whatever kind of cell we need, right?

Wrong!

No problem: science is all about experimenting, observing, and learning.

And even though a significant amount (possibly all) of the limited embryonic stem cell lines were contaminated in this way, Bush only wants to allow those original embryonic stem cell lines to be studied - for those who want that federal research money (as opposed to private research money).

Oh well. The light bulb wasn't created in a day.

The latest theory (though not such a popular one) is that embryonic stem cells show the most potential for promise, because they are so undifferentiated that you can turn them into everything (except for that new house you wanted)! Yet, despite years of research, other forms of stem cells have moved ahead in real world applications, having an actual success rate in actual people (instead of theoretical computer modeling), whereas embryonic stem cells keep degrading into cancer or just becoming useless. One idea is that embryonic stem cells are just too young - too undifferentiated - to be of much use at all.

But that's just a theory as they say. No wait - its not even a theory, its just an idea. An idea that has not been bolstered once by decades of research.

Now this circumstance hasn't come about because Bush won't allow government money to go to embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cell research still exists in the United States (you find that surprising?) thanks to various investment firms.

Most of those investment firms are giving up on embroyonic stem cell research however, due to years of failure on the part of researchers to produce results. The state of California proved that even state governments can fund embryonic stem cell research without a problem from the federal government, and other countries have labs participating in embryonic stem cell research with government money.

There is a thinly veiled bigotry currently circulating among the pro-embryonic stem cell folks in the U.S. Hints of a scientist or research from another country being inferior to the same trained or conducted at some local American state U. like, for example, the University of Arizona.

So there has always been, and continues to be, embryonic stem cell research. There has just been no payoff.

Zero success.

Payoff is important to everyone including an investor. Success is particularly important to people who need life saving measures. But not to politicians who will throw money at a problem for decades and be no closer to any understanding of it upon their retirement, than when they were elected.

Now you might think that, if only the federal government got behind it with the might of US tax dollars, then we'd REALLY see the promise of embryonic stem cells.

You know, like the hundreds of billions of federal dollars poured into finding a cure for AIDS in the last 20 years. Yeah, that has been a big success. Or like all the government grip controlled success of agencies like NASA. Or the Right On Top Of It competence of the CIA. Or the EPA ... er ... well how about the FDA? Um ... er ... INS anyone?

Before we leave the AIDS analogy, let's think about that for a moment.

Let's say that our government bureaus that handle the funding of AIDS research were presented with, say, 16 different research teams who were working on a cure or treatment for AIDS.

Let's assume that 15 of those 16 were showing real world promise. Real people were being helped right now from the fruits of that research. There is only so much money.

Let's say that the 16th team had no success at all, but they were very enthusiastic. They were certain their research would get somewhere. Let's further say that you personally found their methods unsavory.

- But -

While the 15 most successful research teams were vigorously pursuing their science, the 16th one, with No Success, hired members whose job was to make Public Speeches, Organize Nationwide Protests, Scaring the Sick, Desperate, Dying, and the grieving loved ones the dead left behind. Instead of science and researchg, their job was to blur the line between their failures and the success of other AIDS researchers. They did this by covering themselves under the single blanket of "AIDS RESEARCH".

So you distribute the money and choose to go with 10 of the 16 who have had the most success: The "best risk" scenario. There is only so much money and you can only dilute it so far. People's lives are at risk here, after all!

Would the media cheer for your allocating money to the best of the best in their field?

Hell no! The media wants the group who is eating bagels in their Green Room, waiting and ready with a ratings popping soundbite!

What you'd get is what George Bush Jr. is getting right now.

That's the environment, now let's return to the center.

How important is federal money anyway? Well let's look at private enterprise. Look at what Burt Rutan's team did with spaceshipone and about $20 million dollars. That kind of money would fund a low budget movie in Hollywood - not including advertising or distribution.

"Now wait a minute, Eddie." You might say. "You just argued for and against private enterprise - or businesses, becoming involved in embryonic stem cell research."

No, I'm creating potential scenarios. And in every scenario I'm presenting, there are two overriding factors based on past and present history.
1. Lack of government funding in no way limits research.
2. Government funding in no way insures success.

Now that I've set the table, let me bring the dinner by demonstrating historical perspective: Think about it, if the limits of government control had been relaxed enough to the point where various corporations could have participated in the 1960s so-called "space race" apart from NASA (which was the only game until the new millennium and the Ansari Xprize), do you think we could have been to Mars by now, or only trying to get a 4 person space station to orbit the earth? In the 1970s we had people walking on the moon. Our biggest thrill today is pretty pictures of Saturn's rings.

Thank you government funding!

So let me add a third point.
3. Government funding, and its added bureaucracy, often hinders the success of any endeavor.

Why? Because research takes many years, sometimes decades, but the leadership of government oversight committees (local, state, or fed, take your pick) can change every two years, sometimes less. And more to the point, oversight committees rarely understand the research they are overseeing.

They've no clue!

But they keep spending that tax money, turning bloated federal programs that are more about their pork-barrel existence than the reason for it. And all of these committees are sponsored by politicians and politicians who want to get elected every two, to four, to six years and so they want their bureaus to show success or they might lose the next election!

Recall the repetitive ignorance of US senators and the federal judiciary over legislating computer software, hardware, operating systems, Internet, patents and copyrights. It was impossible for nearly anyone to get through their Very Thick Skulls!

So this is no small point.

Federal government funding isn't going to save embryonic stem cell research and lack of federal government funding isn't going to hinder it. Most likely, the loudest braying comes from a handful of senators who view embryonic stem cell research and its Fed funding as a succulent pork barrel feast for themselves and some of the folks back home. So saying Bush is against Stem Cell research would be like someone saying I'm against Dentistry because I don't believe you should pack mercury into people's mouths (mercury is a key ingredient of most "silver" dental fillings AKA amalgam).

That would be foolish, no?

And yet we know there are vocal groups who do this very thing. And they elect people to office.

So why is the media saying this when it isn't true? I'm no mind reader so I dunno. I sure wish I did!

I could guess and say that far too many newspapers run misleading headlines and these specific cartoonists only read the headlines and never the story in their own and other papers. In short, most of the people writing about this are ignorant and uneducated on the subject and They Don't Care. Either that or they know they are lying but think YOU are stupid enough to believe them.

Some political cartoonists, do get it, do understand it, and have the intelligence to pass their knowledge on to their audience. They are:

Chip Bok, The Akron Beacon-Journal

Matt Davies, The Journal News

Dwane Powell, Raleigh News & Observer

Steve Greenberg, The Ventura County Star

So what are we to make of this intentional blurring and slurring of the facts?

Speaking as an atheist, who would like to think of himself as being apart from both sides of the argument: I suspect that the real issue here, which also presents itself time after time in various news stories and these cartoons, is that these folks are REALLY despising George Bush's stance on embryonic stem cell research because
1. He found a loophole to give embryonic stem cell research government funding after President Bill Clinton prohibited it and
2. developing further lines of embryonic stem cells - which Clinton also wouldn't do - conflicts with his values, which are based on his religion.

If that's the true nature of this stance. Fine. If that's how they feel then they SHOULD be against G. Bush on this matter.

And Bill Clinton

And Mahatma Gandhi

And Albert Schweitzer

And Albert Einstein

And Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

And Malcolm X

And Sister Mother Theresa

And Pope John Paul II (whose views matched that of both Bush and Reagan) all of whom pushed their beliefs forward by the engine of their religion.

Now just because something hasn't worked so far, doesn't mean it won't. Research is largely trial and error. And a little bit of luck - though that luck favors the educated.

Embryonic Stem Cell research may, in fact, turn out to have all the glory the hyperbole has promised. Despite all of the setbacks and dead-ends, it just might surprise us all. At least all of us who are looking at the subject critically. Many in the media aren't turning a critical eye towards the issue of embryonic research, it's all an Us vs. Them issue. And of course, there are those loud fringe types, sucking up press, who think that the things will open doorways to other worlds. But I won't be clipping my 'nads for a $5 buck ride to those worlds any time soon.

So if you are going to argue that,
"Embryonic Stem Cell research will be able to do more for people than all other forms of stem cells, if we just research it enough."
Then you're contradicting yourself in one sentence. If "more research" will pull a rabbit out of the hat, then you cannot be intellectually honest by saying that more research in other forms of Stem Cells won't. There's no such thing as "faith-based" science.

And closer to home for this website: as writers, there are already those with a vague (or zero) understanding of stem cell research, who are already starting to write dystopian horrors on the subject. Seriously, when you write about something real, know what the hell you are talking about.

To repeat something that I've said here many times before: If you are going to have a freaking opinion, can it AT LEAST be an INFORMED opinion? Damn!

End Skull


^ In fact, Clinton signed a bill into law that was created by, of all people, Representative Jay W. Dickey, Jr. (R - AK). During his time in office in the 1990s, Dickey became something of a famous fool. He was quoted as saying things like there were no homosexuals in his district, and when SPY magazine asked him about "ethnic cleansing in Freedonia", he up and blamed the President for it. It was this clown who introduced the Dickey-Wicket bill! And Clinton signed it into law! E-GAD!

Freedonia is a mythical country in the Marx Bros. movie, DUCK SOUP.


~ UPDATE:
An FYI. The executive order from President Obama made March 9, 2009, does not override the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, as no executive order can. An Executive Order can only amend or rescind another Executive Order. Dickey-Wicker is a law and has to be rescinded by law.

All President Obama's executive order does is tickle the easily impressed, but otherwise ignorant folks, who don't know any better. Like Bush, Obama still hasn't pushed to change the law. Not even as of January 2010. You'll notice how, like Bill Clinton before him, HE isn't catching any hell for this either.

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