STEM CELL FIGHTERS: Senate Races America Dares Not Lose

by Don C. Reed

Twitter: @diverdonreed

In a moment, I am going to ask a personal favor. But first…

This November, there will be at least nine Senate races where stem cell research hangs in the balance: where a Republican enemy of research threatens to replace a supporter.

What if our friends were no longer there?

What would the anti-research wing of the Republican party do?

Judge by their deeds.

As President, George W. Bush “enthusiastically” (his word) supported jail for stem cell scientists. Mr. Bush and his party tried to put researchers into prison—ten year jail terms and million dollar fines for an advanced form of stem cell research called nuclear transfer, sometimes called therapeutic cloning.

Remember? That was the research supported by Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, First Lady Nancy Reagan, and Christopher “Superman” Reeve. It had nothing to do with sci-fi nightmares of multiplying babies—and everything to do with cells for cure.

Mr. Bush and his party were only stopped because there were enough Democrats (and a handful of pro-research Republicans) to block them in the Senate.

As long as they had power, the anti-research side stacked the deck against cure in ways large and small:  from manipulating the United Nations to try and ban the research across the whole world (they failed) to phony research support bills like the misleadingly-titled “Hope Act” which contained a provision blocking federal funds for embryonic stem cell research.

But maybe the opposition has given up, now that a pro-research President is in office?

Unfortunately, no.

The Republicans have not even repudiated their national platform of 2008, which contains a pledge to “ban all embryonic stem cell research, public or private.”  Until they do, we must take them at their word.

As the old song goes, “Rust never sleeps”, and neither does political manipulation.

Watch how it works: in 2006, Missouri considered a very basic research freedom law: Amendment Two. Here is what it did:

“Plain Language Explanation:
This amendment will allow Missouri patients and researchers access to any method of stem cell research, therapies and cures permitted under federal law.  It also will set limits on any stem cell research, therapies and cures, including banning human cloning or attempted cloning.”

Even an anti-research ideologue could not object to that?

They attacked Amendment 2 as if it was the end of the world.  Children at county fairs were given plastic models of fetuses, and told that was the target of stem cell researchers. Giant posters against Amendment 2 were hung on bridges over freeways, and conservative churches were used as political rallying places.

But the patients would not be denied.

After a huge battle, Amendment 2 became law in 2006. Missouri said yes to stem cell research, even put it into the Constitution.

And that was the end of it, right?

Nope. Since that day, the Republican opposition has mounted no less than 27 separate bills attacking those hard-won research freedoms.

This had a terrible cost. Legendary philanthropists Jim and Virginia Stowers had planned to build a huge new research hospital in the Show Me state. But because of the continued political attacks, construction of that hospital was put on indefinite hold.

How do the opponents of research feel about that? Do they high-five each other, for  blocking a hospital which might have helped advance cures for paralysis, cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease?

Even in the best of circumstances, cure will not come easy. Every disease we fight has been incurable since the dawn of time.

My son Roman Reed has been paralyzed since September 10th, 1994, when his neck was broken in a college football game. That is too long. I want to see Christopher Reeve’s great dream fulfilled—“One day, Roman and I will stand up from our wheelchairs and walk away from them forever”.

I am 65 years old now, just had my birthday. If I can make it to my father’s age (he is 88) I believe that will be long enough to see my son walk again.

But if the friends of research are replaced by those who oppose it?

Democracy is our answer: the greatest system of government in the world. But it depends on us. We need to support people in office who will stand up for the research: not just one dramatic permission struggle, important as that is—but defeating all the miserable sneaky attack bills the opposition can throw at us–  and the life and death funding votes, making sure the scientists can do their job.

We have people in office now, who deserve our thanks. They planted seeds of cure, which are growing now; and we, like farmers fighting locusts, must protect the field.

Friends must be supported; opponents identified. Every governmental candidate’s stem cell position must be made clear.

This is not easy.

Enemies of stem cell research do not always come out in the open and say it. These are not stupid people; they can read polls. They can hear the voices of the sick and their families, the taxpayers asking for help as medical costs overwhelm us all. Even the most obtuse politician knows America wants stem cell research: to lower medical costs, to ease suffering, and to save lives.

No one wants to be seen as against cure—and so they hide behind clever words.

Hand on heart, they intone, “Of course I support stem cell research—adult stem cells.”

Meaning they worked up the courage to support bone marrow transplants– which have been around since roughly 1942.

Or they could be in favor of induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells, a genetic technique to turn adult stem cells into embryonic.  That sounds modern and advanced.

Of course, supporting iPS cells puts them in conflict with their fibs of yesterday– when they said embryonic stem cells were no good at all—now, if they say iPS is “just as good as embryonic”, how does that fit with their previous propaganda?

Embryonic stem cell research is the gold standard: the method of making stem cells against which every new method is tested.

Induced pluripotent stem cells are promising, but there are problems with it. The cells may not multiply cleanly: so that every cell is exactly like the one before. This is important. If we need nerve cells, we don’t want them becoming something else.

There are even rumblings among the opposition that iPS may not be acceptable by them—because if it is just like embryonic stem cells, and they were against that, then wouldn’t they have to be against iPS too?

Welcome to their world.

The opposition will be against cure until it helps somebody in their families. Once people are routinely cured, the enemies will forget about it—thus it has always been.

Objections have been raised against every medical advance in the history of man. From the study of anatomy (originally a crime with the death penalty) to anesthesia for childbirth, to blood transfusions, to vaccinations, to x-rays (opposed because it was thought they might be used to see through women’s clothing), ignorance and fear have always been the enemy of research for cure.

Do we sit idly by and let them win?

THE BIG ASK. Here it comes, the favor. I ask your help. Could you devote an hour (or two or three) of your computer time?

At the bottom of this page is a list of nine Senate races. In each one, we have an opponent of research (maybe two or more if they have not had their primary) versus a friend.

I need news quotes (including sources) from those opposing the research.

Would you be willing to choose one of the opponents and spend an hour on the web looking up his/her stand on embryonic stem cell research, and email your findings to me? (Not the first race, Boxer vs. Fiorina, I have that one pretty much covered, and will write about it soon.) It generally takes me about 12-15 hours to hunt up enough quotes to be sure of a candidate’s stance on the stem cell issue—your help would be important, if you agree with my efforts to protect and advance the research.

Here is my list: people in support of the research, and people against it.  Some have not had their primary yet, which is why there are multiple candidates.

If you would like to help look up quotes for just one of these folks (from the oppose list) please drop me a line at

1. CA: Support Barbara Boxer—oppose Carly Fiorina

2. WA: Support Patty Murray—oppose Dino Rossi

3. WI: Support Russ Feingold—oppose Ron Johnson, Dave Westlake

4.  KY: Support Jack Conway–oppose Rand Paul

5. MO: Support Robin Carnahan –oppose Roy Blunt

6. NH: Support Paul Rhodes –oppose Ovide Lamontagne, Bill Binnie, Jim Bender, Kelly Ayotte

7.  OH: Support Lee Fisher –oppose Rob Portman

8. PA: Support  Joe Sestak—oppose Pat Toomey

9. NV: Support Harry Reid –oppose Sharon Angle

If an intellectual Dark Ages descends again today, cure will be delayed– and millions who suffer will be denied their chance at health.

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