JAIL FOR STEM CELL RESEARCHERS? How Bernie Sanders Lost My Vote
By Don C. Reed
My son Roman Reed is paralyzed, and for 20 years he and I have worked with scientists to help them find a cure.
Bernie Sanders as President? Despite all his best intentions, he might be an obstacle to my son’s hopes of walking again. Let me show you why.
Think back to 2003, the great American cloning dispute.
There are of course different kinds of cloning. When a gardener “cuts a slip” from a plant and grows it, that’s cloning.
Crime Scene Investigators use cloning in DNA tests to determine guilt or innocence.
On the farm, cloning breeds more productive cows, faster horses, sheep with better wool.
But the horror movie variety, duplicating humans? Reproductive cloning has never been accomplished, and never should. Why would we want to clone more people? We can make plenty the old-fashioned way. Replace a lost loved one? A personality is memories and experiences, not “clone-able” characteristics.
Above all, attempting to clone children would endanger both mother and child. Dolly the sheep was cloned by Ian Wilmut. She was experiment number 278– the first 277 died.
But cloning to produce stem cells? That is something different, and potentially valuable.
Under a microscope, put the nucleus from a skin cell into an egg with its own nucleus removed. Gently shock with electricity, let it sit in the Petri dish a few days and take it apart for the stem cells. That’s it: the recipe for Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), sometimes called therapeutic cloning.
No sperm, no implantation in a womb, and therefore no possibility of making a baby—but it does produce cells that might regrow a damaged heart or heal an injured spine.
Making stem cells by the SCNT process is technically difficult, and for a time it was thought to be impossible. But it has been done. Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the University of Oregon was the first to succeed in making a human stem cell line for research into therapy development.
California’s stem cell program (the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM) officially supports SCNT, and considers it valuable. (It also criminalizes reproductive cloning, and put both permission for SCNT and prohibition for reproductive cloning into the state Constitution.)
Do only scientists care about this?
Listen to the late President Gerald Ford:
“Therapeutic cloning …holds limitless potential to improve or extend life for …Americans suffering from some chronic or debilitating condition. …a ban on all cloning…(would mean) slamming the door to lifesaving cures and treatments…
–“Curing, not cloning”, Gerald R. Ford, Washington Post, June 5, 2002
And former President Jimmy Carter …
“One of the great scientific accomplishments of our time, therapeutic cloning, … presents promising new opportunities for the treatment of many serious illnesses and injuries… heart disease, Parkinson’s, and spinal cord injury, to name a few.
“I … oppose restrictions on therapeutic cloning…”
And First Lady Nancy Reagan:
“… Ronnie (President Ronald Reagan, then suffering Alzheimer’s) struggles in a world unknown to me… I am determined to do what I can to save other families from this pain. I’m…in favor of new legislation to allow the ethical use of therapeutic cloning…”
–Office of Nancy Reagan, January 29, 2003
What does this have to do with Bernie Sanders?
He voted to imprison SCNT researchers—and fine them one million dollars.
Hard to believe? Here is his vote.
https://www.ontheissues.org/Social/Bernie_Sanders_Abortion.htm “Voted YES on forbidding human cloning for…medical research. Voted to pass a bill that would… punish violators with up to 10 years in prison and fines of at least $1 million. (emphasis added-DR) …
The specific bill (https://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:H.R.234:) is H.R.234– the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003 (Introduced in House) January 8, 2003, by Dave Weldon (R) of Florida.
Not only did Bernie Sanders give his support to this anti-science bill, but he is officially listed as a co-sponsor.
Where does Hillary Clinton stand on this issue?
She co-sponsored a ban on cloning too.
But her bill distinguished the good from the bad: prohibiting human reproductive cloning—without blocking SCNT research.
But it was only one vote? Sometimes, as a fingerprint reveals identity, a single act can show a person, and how they make decisions.
Sanders took the quick and easy route: condemning both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. He was just against it all. It is chilling that he would choose an oversimplified position on a promising new therapy in an emerging field.
Consider: if you were a scientist, and Bernie Sanders was President, would you want to investigate SCNT – knowing the President supported a law which could fine you a million bucks and put you in jail for a decade? What about the National Institutes of Health (NIH)? How eager would they be to offer grants for such research, if the President himself opposed it?
Most importantly, what about the millions of Americans with chronic disease or disability? These are not faceless statistics, but members of your family and mine: people like my son. What if that method turned out to be the best way to relieve suffering?
Eventually, Bernie Sanders came at least partway around, voting to support embryonic stem cell research, siding with the overwhelming majority of House and Senate. This was the famous bi-partisan Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, (Castle.DeGette) subject of enormous pressure by patient advocate groups from coast to coast. The bill itself was very moderate, allowing the federal government to fund stem cells made from fertilized eggs which would otherwise to thrown away. It came with no money, and was ultimately vetoed (twice) by Republican President George Bush. But Sanders was on the right side, voting with the majority.
But did he ever disavow that vote to imprison stem cell researchers? Not to my knowledge.
With 130 million Americans suffering chronic illness right now, at a cost of more than two trillion dollars a year, we need to fight for cure research.
Above all, the leader of this land must be a friend to science—someone who will lead– not just catch up later with the bare minimum of support.