- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

President Bush is soon expected to make a decision on the public funding of stem cell research. It's an agonizing choice: On one side are millions of individuals suffering from a horrifyingly large number of diseases from Alzheimer's, to cancer, to Parkinson's, to spinal cord injuries who may well benefit from such research. Yet the price for such cures may be the taxpayer-financed destruction of millions of other innocent individuals.
An estimated 100,000 frozen, fertilized eggs each one at least a potential individual are currently awaiting creation or destruction at clinics around the country. Those embryos could be implanted into a welcoming womb, or they could be grown in a petri dish until they are destroyed after their stem cells have been harvested. Such a ghastly harvest may well produce a fruitful plain. Yet no society, no matter how happy or how prosperous, can long survive being built on such an unethical choice, especially not when other alternatives are available.
And the fact is that there are alternatives. Stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood show similar potential, and can be used without the destruction of a single embryo. Adult stem cells, which can be extracted from a list of organs, also show a great deal of promise and, in fact, have already been used in the treatment of numerous diseases.
Yet few in the media have deigned to notice. Instead they continue to focus on potential benefits that may arise years from embryonic stem cells in the future. Yet such benefits may or may not occur, since roadblocks are often the first result of research, and deleterious side-effects are almost a rule in tryouts for new treatments. Potential palliatives do not always emerge to pressing diseases as predicted: Ask anyone in the pharmaceutical industry, even if they are too busy working on stem cell research to answer.
Indeed, a fact not often mentioned in the stem-cell debate is that such research will continue, regardless of what Mr. Bush does. Withholding public money (and thus, public sanction), may slow down such research, but it is unlikely to stop it. The problems that stem-cell research are addressing are scarcely likely to fade, especially as the population continues to age. In their quest to meet such needs, individuals in industry will retain the right to do what they see fit with embryonic stem cells on their dime and on their conscience.
Ultimately, that is what the debate on embryonic stem cells comes down to. Permitting the use of public funds for such controversial research should not be a matter of poll numbers or political calculation. The stakes are simply far too high.
Mr. Bush must base his monumental decision on the highest principle possible: If he is truly pro-life, he will know what to do.

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