MICHIGAN MIRACLE? Stem Cell Stalwarts Fight Uphill Battle
“Let us so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire last for a thousand years, men will still say: this was their finest hour.”—Winston Churchhill
In World War Two, when Nazi bombs were falling on England, the citizens came together like never before. Far from breaking their spirit, the attacks strengthened their resolve.
Similarly, in Michigan today, a common purpose has united men and women from every walk of life. Not separated by artificial labels like Republican and Democrat, church-go’er and not, male and female, young and old, Michiganders are mounting a non-partisan effort to throw off the cruelest anti-research laws in the nation.
Current law? If you are trying to find a cure for cancer and you make a stem cell line, you can go to jail for ten years, and be fined a million dollars. This is nonsense, and it is time for change.
The state of Michigan is fighting for the right to turn medical trash into treasure, to use blastocysts that would otherwise be thrown away to give hope to suffering people, so that every American family can have the right to the best medicine science can provide.
Here is how it works. When a childless couple goes to the In Vitro Fertility (IVF) clinic, to try to have a baby, fifteen or twenty microscopic blastocysts are made—microscopic unions of sperm and egg. The best ones are put inside the woman, implanted in her womb, to help her and her husband achieve their dream. But what about the other 12-15 blastocysts?
Under current law, they must be thrown away, given to some other couple, and be stored in frozen nitrogen (at an expense) forever. But they cannot be used for research which might save lives or ease suffering. That’s correct— a blastocyst which can legally be tossed in the dump, cannot be donated to the quest for cure.
Would it not be better to allow these microscopic dots of tissue to be used to help bring about relief for suffering people? Remember, it is biologically impossible for these cells to ever become a child unless they are implanted in a woman’s womb. No mother, no baby: that is a simple fact of life.
A lot of good people have worked years to overturn those laws.
Why? “Everybody knows someone with a terrible condition, who cannot be cured right now,” said Sophie Eichner of Michigan for Stem Cell Research and Cures, “like my husband, who has cancer and diabetes, and my mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis.”
People like Sophie mounted a campaign, and put Proposal 2 on the ballot. As an initiative, Proposal 2 needed 380, 000 signatures to qualify for consideration; but the men and women fighting for Proposal 2 gathered more than half a million individual signatures.
Now it must be voted on, decided by Michigan.
It is an uphill battle.
The Religious Right likes to brag about their domination of Michigan, taking pride in the very restrictions on research that we hope to overturn– and they have virtually unlimited resources.
Among the enemies of research is (unfortunately) the Catholic Church, the single largest property owner in the world. In addition to attacks from the pulpit, the Michigan Catholic Conference has spent vast amounts of money on their seemingly endless campaign. For example, one of their widely-distributed propaganda messages was a professionally-done 12 minute anti-stemcell DVD. This was sent to every Catholic family in Michigan—think of the cost of 503,000 DVD’s plus postage for that single mailing—not to mention the television ads.
Fortunately, Catholics can be independent. My wife Gloria is Catholic, as are my children Desiree and Roman, and they are among the 72% of American Catholics who support embryonic stem cell research.
Unfortunately, we are up against people who are willing to lie.
These are supposed to be champions of morality. Certainly they praise themselves enough, implying that only non-virtuous folks could disagree with their views.
To me, when the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness”, that means no lying—the opposition tossed that commandment out the window.
Lie Number One: the opposition knows perfectly well Proposal 2 is not about money for research: not a nickel, not a dollar, not a cent.
But the opposition runs expensive TV ads showing an actor shoveling mountains of money, saying Michigan can’t afford to spend millions on stem cell research—even though Proposal 2 asks for no money at all.
Lie number Two: The opposition pretends the bill is about cloning, using the fear of this horror movie fantasy in more professionally-made TV ads, with an announcer intoning like the voice of doom, while the video shows a bunch of buildings with labels like “Crop Clones” on them. I have no idea where they got these companies, or if they exist at all— (a Google search reveals no company by that name) or maybe the company (assuming it has an existence) has something to do with cloning plants, increasing farm crops they way gardeners do when they cut a slip from a plant—but the clear implication is that there is a business trying to clone people, which is completely false.
If the opposition was seriously worried about cloning, all they would have to do is to read the first sentence of the bill itself: here it is.
“Article I Section 27. (1) Nothing in this section shall alter Michigan’s current prohibition on human cloning.”
How much clearer can words get? There is no possible excuse of misunderstanding here; the opposition seems to hope Michiganders will not read the bill for themselves.
Lie number three is the cruelest deception of all—that we don’t need embryonic stem cell research– because adult stem cell research is already bringing cures to 70 (or 58 or 100 or whatever number they are using today) of diseases.
This is the one that angers me the most. Adult stem cell research is valuable, no one says it isn’t. I am in favor of stem cell research from many sources. Where it works, it should be used.
But talk to people who have Parkinson’s, spinal cord injury, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease and more—all conditions presently incurable—and ask them if there is a cure.
My son is paralyzed. If there was a cure, I would sell my house to make it happen for him. There is no cure yet, but the best hope I have is embryonic stem cells.
Adult stem cells to me are like bandaids: they are useful for minor repairs of the body, all through life. I am glad they exist. My sister Barbara, who has cancer and leukemia, was given our younger brother David’s adult stem cells, and they helped—for a while. But then the cancer came back. There is no cure.
No serious scientific or medical body pretends adult stem cells are an acceptable substitute for embryonic stem cell research.
They may even be less valuable than we think.
Here is a small piece of an article which just came out. It is about the adult stem cell research which the opposition tries to say is just as good as embryonic.
Last updated October 7, 2008 10:59 p.m. PT
University: Stem-cell study used falsified data
MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota has concluded that falsified data were used in a 2001 article published by one of its researchers on adult stem cells. The school is asking that the article be retracted.
The conclusion follows an 18-month investigation into research published by stem-cell expert Dr. Catherine Verfaillie. The investigation clears Verfaillie of misconduct but points to a former graduate student, Dr. Morayma Reyes, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Washington.
The university blames Verfaillie for “inadequate training and oversight,” and says it has asked for a retraction of the published article, which appeared in the journal Blood.
Reyes said it was an honest error and there was no intent to deceive.
The study was one of a series that Verfaillie published, suggesting that adult stem cells could be used as an alternative to embryonic stem cells in medical research….” (emphasis added.)—end of quote.
Dr. Katherine Verfaille is a decent and honorable person. She never said her research should replace embryonic stem cell research—she always said both adult and embryonic forms should advance side by side– but those who oppose embryonic stem cell research tried to use her work as an excuse to stop it.
The truth is being heard at last. But facts alone cannot prevail. It takes people brave enough to stand up and speak, sometimes at great cost to themselves.
People like Joe Schwarz, Republican, former Member of Congress. Joe sacrificed his political career to advance stem cell research. In Michigan, people in government are often afraid to speak out against the powerful “right to life” special interest group. If Joe had kept quiet about supporting stem cells, he would very likely have won his race. But Joe Schwarz showed the content of his character, as Martin Luther King said, and spoke out strong for stem cell research. The Religious Right targeted him, and defeated him—but he will be proven right. Michigan and America are richer for the integrity of public servants like Joe Schwarz.
Stem cell research can never belong to one political party. It is above the petty partisanship which so often dims our hopes.
Rick Johnson, another Republican, powerful leader, former speaker of the house, is a Cure Michigan board member.
Democratic champions definitely stand tall. People like Governor Jennifer Granholm, Senator Gretchen Whitmer, Representative Andrew Meissner and other Wolverine State legislators have fought in the trenches for years on our behalf.
Some folks hold no public office, but exercise influence by the power of their voice: people like Danny Heumann. who has been fighting to ease stem cell restrictions since 2004. Paralyzed in body but never in spirit, Danny is a motivational speaker, with so much energy the wheels of his chair almost seem to turn themselves. He is everywhere nowadays, and the next month will see him working to exhaustion and beyond, towards the great goal of freedom to research cure.
We have outstanding leaders, people like Mark Burton, chair of the Committee to pass Proposal 2, to allow responsible embryonic stem cell research in the state of Michigan. Mark is a charismatic young leader, vibrant, vocal—he speaks clearly, putting into words the hopes and dreams of millions—and every strength he can bring to the table is needed right now.
Behind the scenes folks make things happen: people like Amber Shinn, communications director for the effort. You may not see her in the papers, but you will see her work, bringing people together. When I called her to tell me a little about what she does, a question for this article, her first thought was for others, and she said: “Don’t forget to mention Laura DePotter, The Rossman Group, Minda Nyquist, Chris DeWitt, Erica Barrera, Kelly Dancsok”—and a bunch more.
Right now, Michigan is the center of the stem cell universe.
People are standing up everywhere, some everybody knows, like former President Bill Clinton, who is in Michigan, right now, as this is written. How fitting, that the first President to authorize embryonic stem cell research (his permission was overturned by President Bush, who replaced it with his own very limited version) Bill Clinton should come to Michigan to help the struggle.
And if the former President of the United States is coming here, so is the man who has done more than any other human on earth to advance stem cell research—Bob Klein. I think of him as the six billion dollar man, because that is how much his leadership persuaded California to invest in stem cell research: three billion and three billion in interest. He runs his company, a real estate endeavor, does his job as the chair of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee for the California stem cell program, and supports stem cell research in other states as well. He barely has time to breathe. But he is making time to come to Michigan to help raise funds for the effort. It means a day on the plane each ways but when there is fighting to be done for stem cells, Bob Klein is there.
He will shake hands with A. Alfred Taubman, who made the Michigan campaign possible. Like Klein, Taubman has put his fortune on the line for biomedical research in general and stem cell research in particular. Without his vision and kindness, there would no money to try and match the outrageous distortions of the opposition.
Both men should put their hands together in a round of applause for the almost unbelievable accomplishments of Marcia Baum, Mary Smyka, Sophie Eichner of Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures. In the past year, these folks made 170 visits and presentations on stem cell research to churches and social clubs—in the next 30 days they will do 100 more—that’s more than three a day!
Scientists like Sean Morrison, Doug Engel, and Jack Mosher are not sitting back and hoping for the best—they are raising their voices on behalf of the research they know is good and wholesome. Morrison in particular has set an example every scientist should emulate. He knows if we the people do not understand what he is doing, we will not support him, and the research will stop.
People are coming together. Every friend of cure research—regardless of party, religion, or whatever– is working toward the same goal.
I just have to be a part of it. Which is why, Sunday morning, bright and early, I am heading out to the Wolverine State.
Thanks to the Cure Michigan campaign, my wife Gloria’s and my plane fare and hotel room will be covered, and for one week I will get to do what I like most in the world—fighting for stem cell research in a battle when everything is on the line. I will be doing chores, helping in small ways, writing, talking, phonebanking, whatever. Like I told one person, I want to do the chores they would do if they had the time, which they do not.
You can help too.
Tired of divisive politics? Want to work across party lines? Help us in Michigan.
Go to the campaign website. Consider volunteering your time, if you live near enough to the state. Write a letter to the editor. Send a couple bucks if you can.
Help Michigan succeed. A victory here will not only free up some of the best universities in the world to work for cures, but also send a message to the nation that embryonic stem cell research cannot be suppressed any more.
If Michigan wins, everybody wins.
P.S. and a special “shout out” to—
John Simon-Our go to man! firstname.lastname@example.org
Rick Johnson-VP Board of CureMichigan email@example.com
Mark Burton(Burton Consulting, Campaign everyman) firstname.lastname@example.org
Jill Alper (media) email@example.com
Mark Mellman(media) firstname.lastname@example.org
Joe Slade White(media) email@example.com
Chris DeWitt (Press) firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Pischea(Rossman Group/external media) email@example.com
Kelly Rossman(Rossman Group/external media) firstname.lastname@example.org
Amber Shinn(Everywoman!/ Endorsements) email@example.com
Cheryl Bergman(Fundraising/Gov. Granholm) firstname.lastname@example.org
Heather Ricketts (Fundraising) email@example.com
Carrie Jones(Fundraising point person) firstname.lastname@example.org
Kris Caswell (Fundraising/Sen. Levin) email@example.com
Karen DeMott( Fundraising/Budget) firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura DePotter (Intern extraordinaire) email@example.com
Mary Anne Servian (media) firstname.lastname@example.org
Traci Riehl(fundraising) traciriehl@comcast.
Brett DiResta (Research) email@example.com
Something as wonderful as stem cell research advocacy does not happen by itself!