Author Looks Behind the Controversy in Stem Cell Research

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With stem cells on the political agenda again, author Steven A. Zecola puts the focus on the true beneficiaries of the government's current stem cell policy, namely "Big Pharma".

The Race to Cure Parkinson's Disease: How Science Will Defeat Evangelism

With stem cells on the political agenda again, author Steven A. Zecola puts the focus on the true beneficiaries of the government's current stem cell policy, namely "Big Pharma". While Rush Limbaugh and the Religious Right dominate the headlines, the pharmaceutical companies are quietly reaping the benefits of reduced competition from potential cures from stem cell research. Yet, as Zecola explains, the arguments against stem cell research cannot withstand scrutiny and are simply being exploited by the Administration for other reasons.

For example, Evangelicals believe that the sole authority in religion is the Bible. In this vain, the Southern Baptist Convention said in its first resolution against early-stage stem cell research in 1999 that the "Bible teaches that...protectable (sic) human life begins at fertilization." However, in reality, the Bible does not address this issue.

More recently, the Southern Baptist Convention removed this statement from its 2nd resolution on stem cell research. Nevertheless, it continues to oppose early-stage stem cell research despite the fact that its "sole authority" doesn't address when a human life begins (other than in Genesis, which refers to God breathing life into a person's nostrils).

Without Biblical support, certain Christian religious organizations are now attempting to stake out a scientific basis for their position on early-stage stem cell research. For example, Ryan Anderson, in First Things published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life says:

"Human embryos, as a matter of scientific fact, are human beings at a very early stage of development. For one to deny this basic biological truth isn't simply to be wrong, but to be unreasonable. The science is clear. While sperm and egg are both genetically and functionally parts of the adult parents, when a sperm fertilizes an egg and the respective pronuclei fuse; a genetically and functionally new, distinct, and unique human organism comes into existence. This embryonic human being possesses all of the internal resources necessary to guide him through further stages of development".

Mr. Ryan does not provide his scientific credentials, nor is he even listed on the website of one of two organizations he references as an employer.

What about Mr. Ryan's argument? It is pure sophistry. Mr. Ryan simply ignores that a necessary step for life to begin is that the embryo must first attach itself to the uterine wall. In other words, before it attaches to the uterine wall, the embryo only has the potential for life. It cannot be deemed to be alive because it will never become a human life.

This basic principle of logic has been known worldwide from a time well before the United States came into existence. A simple analogy taught in undergraduate school follows:

"Everyone is familiar with the concept of a necessary condition. For example, we all know that air is necessary for (human) life. Without air, there is no (human) life. Similarly, a microscope (or some other instrument) is necessary for human beings to see viruses. (Viruses are too small to be seen by the naked eye.)"

            Norman Swartz, Department of Philosophy; Simon Fraser University

In a similar break with reality, James Dobson of Focus on the Family harkens early-stage stem cell research to Nazi experiments on the Jews. His followers are proud to follow in his misbegotten footsteps. For example, Gloria Poole writes:

Hitlers in Skirts

"This nation by the grace of God is not going down that path to Hitler Medicine where innocent people are killed for their wealth and stuck with a label "research". The abominable HR 810 bill intended to legalize the killing of innocent human embryos and pay for it with taxpayers' dollars would thrill HITLER.... It is my sincerest prayer that those who fail to repent of such evil burn in hell and for the good of the nation, the sooner the better! God wrote in stone, "Thou shalt not kill" and the US Senate & House of Representatives would do well to remember those words. They also would do well to remember the solemn warning of God in Exodus 9: 6, "whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made HE man."....

Despite the vehemence, the Evangelicals have not laid out any supportable predicate for their position – either in the Bible or in a logical and coherent analysis of the facts. Therefore, the only real controversy on early-stage stem cell research is that it is accorded the status of a controversy at all.

Zecola argues that history will show that President Bush simply used the trumped-up distractions of the Religious Right to protect the profit streams of companies in the $300 Billion a year pharmaceutical industry. The facts show that "Big Pharma" is the only real beneficiary of the President's veto of stem cell legislation. That is, any future cures of diseases from early-stage stem cell research will cut back on the need for drugs to treat that disease.

Separating the winners from losers in the stem cell debate requires a comprehensive view of religion, science, business and government. Even Shakespeare would be intrigued to uncover the true motivations of the people behind this saga.

Steven A. Zecola is an Adjunct Professor at Capitol College in Laurel, MD. He recently published the book "The Race to Cure Parkinson's Disease: How Science Will Defeat Evangelism". http://www.TheRaceToCureParkinsons.com

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