May 24, 2005,
Before the House of Representatives votes today on embryonic-stem-cell research, every member of the Republican majority should sit down on a hard chair and ask himself: “Why should taxpayers finance this activity?”
Embryonic-stem-cell research is fraught with controversy. If it were not, Republicans still might argue that government money should steer clear of this new area, to say nothing of stashing the federal checkbook, just for once.
As it happens, the private sector already is busy funding this research:
Just yesterday, New York’s Starr Foundation announced a three-year, $50 million grant to support original stem-cell work at three Manhattan medical institutions. Over the next three years, Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Rockefeller University will collaborate on these projects using Starr’s money.
Harvard professor Doug Melton made news in March 2004 by creating 17 “lines” of embryonic stem cells. He accomplished this with private funding. In fact, the entire Harvard Stem Cell Institute is privately underwritten. One Harvard alumnus gave it $5 million. The institute plans a $100 million fundraising appeal.
“The Microsoft of the stem cell age could be in the making at the Menlo Park [California] offices of the Geron Corp., a 65-employee biopharmaceutical firm that got its start in cancer drug research,” the Sacramento Bee reported last December. “Since 1996, Geron has invested more than $90 million pioneering the field of human embryonic stem cell research and plans to test its first embryonic stem cell therapy on humans in 2006.” Lee adds that Geron sold $40 million in stock last fall and, at year’s end, had $130 million in ready cash.
With just these examples in mind, the question again should hound every Republican congressman who believes in limited government and private enterprise: “Why should taxpayers finance this activity?”
Fiscal restraint would be argument enough if stem-cell research were merely novel and not the ethical equivalent of a meadow full of land mines. While embryonic-stem-cell research eventually may yield cures for cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, or quadriplegia, the fact is that each embryo drafted into that effort is either human (if one believes life begins at conception) or at least potentially human (if one believes life begins at birth).
The so-called “harvesting” of stem cells euphemizes the fact that removing these cells leaves the rest of the embryo precisely dead. Such stem-cell-deprived embryos miss the chance eventually to become social workers, union organizers, women’s-studies professors, newspaper editors, or even medical researchers who, someday, could develop an AIDS vaccine.
These embryos are created for in vitro fertilization, often in quantities far beyond the numbers of children their parents wish to deliver. These excess embryos remain frozen in fertility labs across America. If they had to be discarded, one could argue that chopping them up for research might make the best out of a bad situation. But this is not so.
Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program, a Fullerton, California-based nonprofit, is a pioneer in finding loving homes for these Microscopic-Americans. Snowflakes so named because each of these souls on ice is as unique as every snowflake links infertile parents with frozen embryos whose characteristics appeal to particular pairs of moms and dads. While many of the thawed and implanted embryos do not survive in their mother’s wombs, others do. Of the 145 children born through embryo adoption nationwide so far, Snowflakes has brought 81 healthy boys and girls into the world since 1998. Fifteen more Snowflakes babies are expected between now and October.
Snowflakes is working with Rep. Joe Pitts (R., Pa.) to introduce House members to 17 young Americans between the ages of 3 months and 7 who once were frozen (in Gabriel Vest’s case, for nine years). Previously deprived of the opportunity to be carved up for research, these kids will be on Capitol Hill today to illustrate that frozen embryos need not wind up drawn and quartered inside Petri dishes. Instead, they can be allowed to grow up into constituents.
Rather than encourage the Snowflakes model to generate an avalanche of embryo adoption, California has jumped skis-first into public funding of embryonic-stem-cell research. Golden State voters approved Proposition 71 last November, 59 percent to 41. Sacramento now will float bonds to raise $300 million annually for ten years to fund studies in this area. This has become the latest migraine on the state’s endless list of headaches.
“Here in California,” says Wesley J. Smith, senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, “we are sacrificing present medical needs as our emergency rooms and trauma centers are shutting down for lack of funds as we borrow hundreds of millions of dollars each year to pay corporate welfare to companies involved in highly speculative and morally problematic research that, even if it pans out, may be decades away.”
The House today will decide whether to follow California into further government involvement in the technology driven killing of Microscopic-Americans (or at least potential Americans). Meanwhile, plenty of research remains to be done on ethically neutral adult stem cells and umbilical-cord stem cells.
Rather than see these young (potential) citizens torn to bits and splashed under microscopes, I would prefer to see this research prohibited. Barring that, the drug sector should pick up the tab. After all, as Neil Munro wrote in the April 2 National Journal, “CEOs say that the pharmaceutical industry spent $39 billion on research and development in 2003, often in partnership with smaller biotech companies, which alone spent about $10 billion on research that year.”
Why on Earth are Republicans even thinking about sticking the U.S. Treasury for this bill when these industries devoted $49 billion to scientific inquiry in 2003 alone?
“There’s a certain cannibalism here,” one drug-company executive tells me. “I’m willing to save my skin by destroying your body.” He adds: “There’s no reason for government to pay for this. If this technology is as promising as people say it is, the private sector will invest in it.”
Before the ayes and nays are called, House Republicans owe at least this to every rank-and-file GOPer who holds Ronald Reagan’s philosophy dear: These representatives once again should close their eyes and ask themselves, “Why should taxpayers finance this activity?”
Deroy Murdock is a New York-based syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.