I had a meeting last week with the Chairperson of the Board of Directors at the CPC at which I am employed. As is often the case with people who run companies, she was unexpectedly detained. As I sat in the waiting room and read a magazine about Georgia business, I came across an article about Dr. Steve Stice at the University of Georgia. Dr. Stice is one of the worlds most respected and accomplished scientist in the field of biogenetic research including cloning and embryonic stem cell experimentation. He is working with the University in conjunction with his private company to develop, among many other things, the first line of commercial products to sell to other labs that helps multiply the stem cells that are extracted from embryos into the billions.
In the article (disclosure, I forgot the publication and have had no luck finding it on the internet) Dr. Stice discusses the challenges of raising money to do this research in a conservative state like Georgia and the desire of his donors to see tangible results. He is quoted as saying that although they, his research team, are very excited about what they are seeing in the lab, the people financing this research are starting to tap their toes and look at their watches awaiting actual usable treatments. His response is that these treatments may be five or possibly ten years away.
Here is my point. The hysteria over President Bush’s recent veto and the “ban” on embryonic stem cell research does not mesh with the story that I read. Dr. Stice is working at the flagship school in the University System of Georgia, receiving all of the support that he needs to work at the highest level in his field and produce a series of accomplishments that make him the envy of other scientists the world over. The article said that the University of Wisconsin (another state school) was actually trying to lure him a way with an incentive package that would convince him to move his research and his private company there. I have serious moral and ethical concerns about some of what this man does, but I fail to see how the current research restrictions have hindered his abilities or cost people lives. Even one of the most successful and brilliant researchers in this field is admitting that the actual therapeutic products of this research are, at best, years away. That admission comes from the man who has patented and is now marketing a process of multiplying stem cells to answer the “terrible problem” that these researchers face in a shortage of usable human embryonic stem cells.
What ban? Why are people dying as a result of the veto? How can those who continue to carry on with this ridiculous rhetorical hyperbole get so many unchallenged opportunities from the media to sell this nonsense? The most disturbing fact of all is that the truth behind the hysteria is not the potential cures, although I am certain that is what motivates people like Michael J. Fox. More and more the actual impetus behind all of this is being clearly expressed. New Jersey is borrowing $450 million; Wisconsin is attempting to lure Dr. Stice, California is pulling out all the stops, and the Democrats and Republicans both are fighting for their constituencies because no one wants to fall behind in the race for profitable patents. Other nations, other states, other people will make more money than us and be ahead of the curve in this brave new world of bioengineering. That is why it is impossible to stop and ask the ethical questions before we wade into this mess. It is not the sanctimonious desire to see all illnesses cured. The scientists and politicians are acting like rabid fans of The Who at a general admission concert. There are prime seats to be had and you simply do not have a moment to spare and find out what that is you are trampling on as you fight for front row seats at the greatest show this week.