By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer
Atlantic News, Thursday, October 7, 2004
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
[Atlantic News Photo by Liz Premo]
HAMPTON — The controversial issue of embryonic stem cell research was addressed on Monday of this week when presidential candidate John Kerry held a town hall meeting in the gymnasium at Winnacunnet High School.
Greeted by a thunderous standing ovation as he entered the gym with former NH Governor Jeanne Shaheen, Kerry was also accompanied by Hollywood actor Michael J. Fox.
The "Family Ties" star, who was diagnosed in 1991 with Parkinson's Disease, is an activist for stem cell research, which proponents say may hold the key to the eventual treatment of a number of diseases, including diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Stem cells, which are present in the immediate time just after conception, are responsible for the creation of the cells, organs and other tissue that compose the human body. Researchers believe that, by implanting healthy stem cells into the bodies of those suffering from debilitating illness, these afflictions can be cured.
Addressing hundreds of Kerry supporters, Fox observed that George W. Bush "had a chance" to fully support continuation of the research, but that the president "took us in the wrong direction" when the Bush administration significantly decreased federal funding for the research back in August of 2001.
At that time, faced with making a decision that has been described as a delicate political balancing act, Bush allowed for some 60 pre-existing stem cell lines to be made available to researchers, but severely limited any federally funded research beyond that amount.
Lately, however, claims have been made that some of those particular stem cell lines may be useless; according to the Kerry campaign, less than a third (about 19) of the original number is available. The research community reportedly believes that more lines are needed for viable research to continue.
"This underscores the perils of having a president who turns his back on science," said Kerry, contending that Bush had "abandoned the hope of millions" -- namely, the 100 million Americans (with more than 600,000 in New Hampshire alone) suffering with diseases that may potentially be treatable with further research.
Calling President Bush "stubborn, out of touch and is unwilling to change course," Kerry told the crowd, "The majority of the American people support stem cell research. It's [about] time we had a president that supported it too."
[Atlantic News Photo by Liz Premo]
The Democratic candidate has pledged he will "move to lift the ban [and] secure more funding" if he is elected president in November.
Several audience members suffering from debilitating illnesses offered their own opinions on the matter. An elderly woman stood up to tell Kerry that she has a pulmonary condition as well as a younger sister who has Alzheimer's. Acknowledging "it's too late for me" to benefit from any potential cures obtained through stem cell research, the woman told Kerry, "I'm voting for you and everything you stand for."
Thanking the woman for her support, Kerry noted that, "instead of listening to facts, [the Bush administration] says stem cell research is giving people false hope. It's unthinkable, but that's what this administration is saying to science." He added, "I believe that when it comes to promising research, there's no such thing as 'false hope.'
Also offering comments in support of stem cell research was Londonderry Republican Steve Walter, accompanied by his son Alex, who has diabetes. The elder Walter reported his son, who is under the age of 10, needs to have 12 finger pricks a day to test his blood sugar. Alex held a lengthy collection of the syringes needed to inject him with regular doses of insulin; he has received 6000 shots since he was diagnosed just a few years ago. "Stem cell research is a pathway to a cure for Alex," said his father, insisting that "we can't wait another four years" for a change in Bush administration policy. "Consider this a critical issue and support Senator Kerry," he added.
Walter is certainly not the only Republican showing support for the research. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan and a number of GOP leaders in Washington have expressed their desire for stem cell research to expand and continue toward the medical breakthroughs they envision.
Outlining a number of giant leaps in medical research history, cancer specialist Dr. Andrea McKey stated that "the potential is limitless" for embryonic stem cells to be fe turned into pancreatic islet cells to battle diabetes, as well as into other cells to potentially overcome related conditions such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
"It's conceivable that [these diseases] may be cured within our lifetime," she claimed, adding that any further delays in conducting research "is a real tragedy."
"We're about to change that," said Kerry prior to taking an assortment of questions and comments from the audience. "It's called, making John Kerry the next president of the United States." The crowd erupted into applause. The Bush camp was not unaware that Kerry would be emphasizing stem cell research at Monday morning's forum. A press release issued early in the day by Bush-Cheney '04 NH Vice Chairman Bruce Keough claimed that "Kerry came to New Hampshire today to play on the fears of the community for sheer political gain."
Keough went on to state that Kerry's "misleading claim that there is a 'ban' on stem cell research is completely detached from the truth." Noting that Bush "did not ban stem cell research," Keough maintained that Bush "is actually the first president in history to fund stem cell research."
According to Keough, the federal government last year "invested $25 million in embryonic stem cell research and nearly $191 million in other stem cell research, while millions more continue to be spent on research in the private sector."
Keough commented that Kerry would "say or do anything for what he thinks will work to his political advantage, and once again New Hampshire voters see his absurd and baseless attacks are at odds with the truth."
Even the correct number of existing stem cell lines and the degree of research currently being conducted appear to be in apparent dispute between the political parties.
During a recent campaign stop in Derry, President Bush observed that "in order to create a stem cell line you have to destroy life. In other words ... you take an embryo, and you destroy the embryo, out of which comes a stem cell line. And before I made my decision, there [were] some 70 lines in existence. And I felt that those lines would be ample enough to be able to allow science to go forward to determine whether or not stem cell research would yield the results we all hope that it yields. And so I agreed to allow federal funding to go forward on existing stem cell lines so that further life would not be destroyed."
Bush added, "Out of those 70 lines, some 22 are functional now. And out of that 22 lines, there's over 300 different projects that are going forward. In other words, there is an active effort to determine whether or not embryonic stem cells will yield the results" We hope they yield."
The president went on to say during his Derry visit that he is "a big believer in funding adult stem cell research, which does not require the destruction of life. My hope is your hope, that out of the research that exists, that we'll be able to find cures for the diseases. And one of the things that this country will be con-fronted with over the next decades, particularly as technology advances, is we'll be confronted with very profound ethical decisions that are going to be important decisions."
Ironically, the Pittsburgh-based International Fat Applied Technology Society (IFATS) has made the claim that liposuctioned body fat from human beings can be a prime source of stem cells for medical research, eliminating the need (and thereby any ethical issues that arise) for human embryos, which are destroyed once the needed stem cells are obtained.
It remains to be seen whether they are correct. If they are, it could be a major turning point in the whole stem cell research debate.