In Arguing Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Bush Administration Fact-Checked By Nobel Laureates, Opposed By Stephen Hawking
When President Bush, in the first veto of his presidency, said no to popular legislation for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, the main spin line provided was that this was an example of Bush's strong "pro-life" beliefs.
I say spin because Bush's pro-life stance was the equivalent of being a little bit pregnant. When Bush came into office, he allowed existing embryonic stem cell lines to be used, and at no time in his presidency did he push for a nationwide ban on such research -- federally funded or otherwise.
Perhaps that's why critics felt that Bush was actually merely trying to appease the religious right, which helped him get re-elected in 2004. Those fair-minded people, like Dr. James Dobson, have compared embryonic stem cell research to Nazi science, an opinion repeated on the Senate floor in 2004 by the non-hyperbolic Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
But the spin doesn't stop there. In the days leading up to the veto, Bush's top advisor, Karl Rove, was telling the Denver Post that “recent studies” show researchers “have far more promise from adult stem cells than from embryonic stem cells.”
Now, I have nothing against adult stem cell research. Those of you who have read this blog know that I am a leukemia survivor, and only recovered because of an adult stem cell transplant, from my younger sister, in December, 2001.
But adult stem cells, while a powerful tool for doctors, do not have more promise than embryonic stem cells.
The Chicago Tribune knew this, too. But to make sure, it contacted a dozen top stem cell experts about Rove’s claim. They all said it was inaccurate.
So who wrote the “studies” that Rove was referring to? Turns out that White House spokesman Ken Lisaius could not provide the name of a stem cell researcher who shares Rove’s view -- the view that we have to assume is shared by Bush.
Just like Bush ignored the Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing that said Osama Bin Laden was determined to strike within the United States, he apparently also ignored a letter last year from 80 Nobel laureatesm who said that “current evidence suggests that adult stem cells have markedly restricted differentiation potential.”
Which is worse: that Bush may have turned his back on science as a political favor to hyperbolists like Dobson, or because he was ignorant of the relative potential of adult stem cells?
One person who has a stake in the potential of embryonic stem cell research is Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world's best-known scientist.
Hawking, who suffers from motor neurone disease, has criticized Bush, as well as various European leaders, for stopping funding of embryonic stem cell research. The European Union has been debating preventing funding for seven years of such research.
"Europe should not follow the reactionary lead of President Bush, who recently vetoed a bill passed by Congress and supported by a majority of the American people that would have allowed federal funding for stem cell research," he said in a statement to The Independent of London.
Hawking argued that "Stem cell research is the key to developing cures for degenerative conditions like Parkinson's and motor neurone disease from which I and many others suffer." And he dismissed the argument that using embryos is the equivalent of murder, as the religious right has argued.
"The fact that the cells may come from embryos is not an objection because the embryos are going to die anyway," he said. "It is morally equivalent to taking a heart transplant from a victim of a car accident."
Who do you trust: 80 Nobel Laureates and Hawking, or George W. Bush and Karl Rove? One group is backed by scientific facts, the other is backed by science fiction.