STEM CELLS AND DIABETES
I broadcast the following commentary on All Things Considered on July 18, 2006, the day the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would have expanded federal funding for embroyonic stem cell research. On July 19, President Bush vetoed the bill. The legislation is dead for this year, but the argument is far from over.
I was recently diagnosed as a diabetic, joining millions of other Americans who have Type-2 diabetes, one of the fastest spreading illnesses in the nation today. So far, I have been able to control my blood sugar level through diet, exercise and medication. I can even enjoy a glass of wine and — mother of all evils — the occasional ice cream cone. But I am aware of the frightful consequences of this disease when it gets out of control. So I play a lot of tennis and work out, not as often as I should, I suppose, but more often than before this diagnoses.
No surprise, then, that I and many other Americans — there are an estimated 20 million Type-2 diabetics — paid special attention as the Senate addressed the emotional and politically-loaded issue of expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. There are no guarantees, but scientific evidence suggests that such research could provide new treatments and possibly even a cure for numerous diseases, including diabetes.
After years of covering similar debates as a journalist, I have discovered that nothing brings home a public policy issue like the possibility that it could affect you individually and intimately. You evolve very quickly from disinterested observer to participant. I not only want to benefit myself from any treatment that might emerge from embryonic stem cell research, I want my children, Elizabeth and Christopher, to share that advantage should diabetes prove to be genetic.
President Bush has repeated his opposition to this legislation, as recently as this week. He has said that in his view, such research, using the estimated 400,000 excess embryos that are currently frozen in fertility clinics, “crosses an important moral line.” He says this, despite the fact that most of these frozen embryos would otherwise be discarded.
I don’t doubt his sincerity. But I do question whether we elect our political leaders to assert their moral or religious views over scientific evidence and, polls suggest, the will of the majority.
Honest men and women can differ over this question. It is not black and white. But I have to admit my bias. I have a dog in this fight. The President has pledged to use his first veto in six years on this legislation. I hope he listens to this debate and decides to keep his veto pen in his pocket.