Swamping Stem Cells

July 18th, 2006

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Washington is built on a swamp, which is why those of us who live here must deal with triple digit heat and humidity (not to mention mosquitoes large enough to carry away small pets). It also provides a useful metaphor for politics, as today’s Senate debate over embryonic stem cell research makes clear.

A bipartisan bill authorizing the use of federal dollars for this incredibly promising medical research passed the House in May of 2005, and it is expected to pass the Senate today. Alas, that’s when the bill is expected to disappear into the swampy bog, when President Bush uses his first EVER veto in a move that is nearly certain to kill the bill for this year. Just like with Swamp Fever, as the mercury rises it seems that responsible and measured thinking falls.

The Bush opposition to this bill is tragic and preposterous. The bill is carefully crafted and forward-thinking—precisely the kind of thing that this otherwise do-nothing Congress should be doing. This bill represents an approach that is guided by science and reason instead of by extremists on either side of the issue. On the one hand, the bill proceeds cautiously and sensitively, with ethical requirements that new research can only be performed on stem cells created specifically for fertility treatment and otherwise to be discarded. The cells must also derive only from donors who have provided written informed consent and who were not offered financial inducement.

On the other hand, the bill refuses to accept the logic—inherent in President Bush’s order limiting stem cell research that the bill would overturn—that could prevent even in vitro fertilization in the future, based on the fact that embryos are created and discarded in the process. Furthermore, the bill takes a critical step towards future medical cures and places the United States’ scientific research community on equal footing with many overseas competitors, who are advancing steadily in their government-supported embryonic stem cell research. Read Third Way’s official letter of endorsement to the Senate.

The recent deaths of Christopher and Diana Reeves, both impassioned advocates for stem cell research, have only emphasized the loss of progress towards potential life-altering cures since President Bush’s order was issued. It is heartening to see the bipartisan consensus in Congress that has developed around this measure. Third Way applauds those conservatives, like Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senator Orrin Hatch, who support this progressive bill. If only they could convince the President to sign it into law, this bill could help cool the political heat in Washington by creating a rational and bipartisan solution that promises future medical relief.