Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Book of Matthew: Finally, some science: Funding stem cell research

Published: March 13, 2009
Section: Opinions

<i>PHOTO from Internet Source</i>

PHOTO from Internet Source

On Monday, an important Bush-era restriction came to a timely end at the hands of President Obama.

Obama signed an executive order ending the restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, which had originally been put into place by President Bush on Aug. 9, 2001.

This is a huge win for Americans who have been hoping to see their country take the forefront in medical research once again, not to mention those who have been sick to death of the radical Bible-thumpers who ran the show for the past eight years.

Embryonic stem cell research has the potential to literally revolutionize modern medicine in several ways. For one thing, scientists believe that these cells—which are found within early-stage embryos and eventually develop into the many different types of adult cells—may be used in “cell therapy” to replace damaged cells in the human body. This could mean cures for a whole host of conditions, including blindness, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disease.

But that’s not all. Embryonic stem cell research may also help scientists better their understanding of certain types of cancers that are thought to be caused by “defective” stem cells. This in turn could lead to more effective cancer treatments for thousands of patients.

Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, thanks to Bush’s draconian restrictions, we have not yet realized the potential benefits of this research. Throughout his presidency, federal funding was only allowed to go to stem cell lines created before Aug. 9, 2001, and out of those lines, only about 20 or so were actually viable. Which meant that for years, little progress was made.

Now that Obama has issued his own order, however, the number of lines eligible for money should rise into the hundreds, providing scientists with more data at a much faster rate.

Of course, despite all the promise that this research holds (and despite the fact that Bush is spending a quiet retirement in Texas), there is still a great deal of opposition from the Republican Party and its overactive (and oversized) religious right wing. Just after Obama signed the order, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) signaled his opposition by stating, “The president has rolled back important protections for innocent life, further dividing our nation at a time when we need greater unity to tackle the challenges before us.” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) was more blunt, calling Obama the “abortion president.”

I must admit, their line of thinking doesn’t exactly make sense to me. But then again, my liberal, non-believing self doesn’t see embryonic stem cell research as destroying “innocent life.” There is a world of difference between a small cluster of cells and a human being, and I don’t believe that the former is developed enough to be considered a sentient being. To me, the phrase “innocent life” brings to mind images of ordinary people suffering from presently incurable afflictions. You know, the people we could be helping by putting serious money into embryonic stem cell research.

But what I find even more infuriating is that fact that right-wing critics are attacking a research process that they don’t seem to fully understand. Yes, the embryos are destroyed in the process; that is undeniable. But they are not “aborted,” as Rep. Smith suggests. Most are leftover embryos obtained from fertility clinics and would have been destroyed regardless. This is simply a chance for them to serve a purpose before they go, and it would be a terrible waste not to study them.

If the right-wing radicals want to lecture us about fire and brimstone (or whatever it is that supposedly awaits liberal sinners), let them waste their breath. Hopefully, in the near future millions of Americans—both liberal and conservative—will benefit from this research. And so, all I have to say is, well done, Mr. President. Continue to stand up for science and the people who depend on it.