Letters

If stem cell research is banned, India can take care of that job sector, too. Readers respond to Farhad Manjoo's "Thou Shalt Not Make Scientific Progress."


Salon Staff
March 31, 2004 1:30AM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

I don't want to be perfect. I like who I am, including my imperfect nose and extra-hairy legs. But I have a disease called muscular dystrophy that has taken away my ability to walk. In fact, in just 10 years I've lost all my muscle function. I used to run races, ride a bike, swim for hours in the frigid Atlantic ocean, and wash my own hair.

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I don't want to be perfect, but I was hoping that embryonic stem cell research could cure my disease so that I can blow my imperfect nose and shave my extra-hairy legs -- without a nurse to do it for me.

G.W. Bush proves to be even more of a tyrant than I thought.

-- Name withheld

So the president isn't allowed to set policy anymore? Or is it that he just can't set policy based on religious beliefs that the author doesn't hold? This whole argument seems to be nothing more than "I don't take Bush's position on this issue, and so I'm going to slam him for making policy decisions that he is perfectly entitled to make, as president." The president is not required to share your position. (And, I should point out, it's not as if Bush is the only American who takes this view.) If you don't like the decisions Bush is making, then vote for someone else in November.

-- Pete Goebel

If stem cells are sacred because they can develop into humans, then isn't the DNA that has the blueprint for those future humans also sacred? Moreover, aren't the eggs and sperm that contribute the DNA to make the stem cells sacred? Then aren't the organs that make the eggs and sperm sacred? Isn't the act that unites these itself sacred? Then aren't the bodies that house the organs that make the eggs and the sperm sacred, too?

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If we were actually, in our cellular and biological entirety, all sacred, then wouldn't life itself be too sacred to squander in wars, execute in prisons, endanger with unrestricted and antiquated gun laws, abort at any time, kill for any reason? And couldn't you make the argument that even your fingernail parings and shed hair and skin containing DNA are sacred?

Wouldn't you balk at the ridiculousness of these extreme positions if you were a halfway-educated, thinking and feeling human being possessed of some minor ability to reason logically?

The problem we face today is not that these things are sacred, not DNA, not cells of any kind, not even human lives. We humans obviously do not act with any consistency as if human life in whole or in part really were "sacred," whatever that word might truly mean.

The only thing that really seems sacred to humans is their hypocrisy, and its consistent application by the ill-informed, illogical, inhumane, and superstitious persons with power enough to try to dictate everyone else's lives and choices.

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I sympathize with those people that are having their ailing children sentenced to certain slow death by the medieval mentality of those that fear inevitable scientific progress, simply because we are governed by officials that pander to the special interests of religious fanatics bent upon forcing their ideologies on everyone, in the name of a supposed supreme deity that must certainly be much smarter than we are and much more infinitely compassionate to all people than we are to each other.

-- George Radai

Farhad Manjoo has done a wonderful job writing about stem cell research. As a biomedical researcher, I am more than familiar with the issues involved with stem cell research. If given opportunity and funding to work the rest of my academic life on, I would choose stem cell research work. However, being practical minded, I wouldn't go that route, for it is suicidal to work on a program that will not be funded easily. Jobs are not easy to come by.

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On the importance of this article, I would say that soon, countries such as India and the United Kingdom will take over stem cell research. India, because they do not have the "religious" baggage that we have in doing research of this nature. Second, the biomedical community is as talented as the U.S.-based community is, in working on cell-culture work. For example, the national center for cell culture located in Pune in the state of Maharastra is nowhere inferior to NIH in terms of technical talent.

Similarly, the U.K. does not have the religious baggage that the U.S. has. I wouldn't be surprised if outsourcing occurs to these countries in the near future to accomplish what we cannot do here.

Down the road, the United States will end up being a second-rate place to do high-tech research in medicine, the bread-and-butter issue for the U.S. economy.

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Those who not understand the serious nature of this important issue are morons. Could I be more blunt than this?

-- Krishna Kannan

I applaud Farhad Manjoo for presenting a clear analysis of the choices involved in stem cell research and for seeking to be fair to the President's Council on Bioethics.

At one point, he quotes Michael West, of Advanced Cell Technology, who says, "The arguments that this [a five-day-old embryo] is somehow a human being are unfounded and have no basis in religion or science. Those in the religious community who are saying this are basing it on nothing -- there's nothing in any religious document that says this is even against religion."

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This argument would be breathtaking in its sheer stupidity if one didn't suspect that, so typical of liberal arguments on this point, it is really based on the same selective blindness with which liberals try to deceive the public on almost any issue that they fear would fail on its own merits.

That a human embryo is human is beyond dispute. If it weren't human, duh, scientists wouldn't be seeking to harvest it. No one is in a hue and cry after pig or monkey embryos, only human ones. In other words, West wants them precisely because they're human -- and then tries to deny the very thing that makes them valuable. How completely typical of the facile, deceptive rhetoric of the pro-choice crowd. (Of course the other possibility is that we should take his later comment, to the effect that stem cells are "magical," literally, and assume that he supposes that the embryo from any species might suddenly become human. This sort of know-nothingism about embryos and fetuses certainly seems to guide most pro-abortionist thinking about the fate of the unborn.)

As to his flip dismissal of religious texts, one can only wonder what sort of general education he had. I can certainly think of religious texts that suggest a Divine role in forming the person in the womb; West's lamentable ignorance of such texts changes nothing.

Manjoo seems to be correct in his analysis: One either agrees that the use of stem cells is justified by potential advances in medicine, or one does not. There seems to be little middle ground. There do seem to be arguments in favor of such research; there are also reasons to pause before proceeding. One may understand if some choose to reject such arguments; what is annoying is that they try to pretend that the arguments never existed and substitute glibness and flippancy for reason.

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-- Michael Huggins

This week it was announced that the Department of Defense is giving American tax dollars to European medical research programs to research Parkinson's disease because they think it might help them find treatments for battlefield injuries from a chemical attack. They could not do this important research here because President Bush has made almost all stem cell research illegal.

Stem cell research is a perfect issue for Sen. Kerry. People who are waiting for a cure for a whole range of diseases will vote this issue alone if given the chance. People who don't care about politics enough to vote would come out to the polls if it might mean a chance at a cure for a family member. Support groups for the various diseases would be motivated to run voter drives. Almost everyone knows someone who might benefit from stem cell research. The only real opposition comes from the religious right, which is not going to vote for Sen. Kerry under any circumstances. Besides, this is the right thing to do.

There should be a commercial on the subject released to coincide with a Kerry speech on the subject. I envision it opening with Christopher Reeve saying, "Stem cell research is my best chance of walking again, but President Bush said no." Then Michael J Fox saying, "Stem cell research is the best chance of curing Parkinson's in my lifetime, but President Bush said no." Then a picture of Nancy Reagan, who is a supporter of stem cell research, and a quote you will be able to find from her about its promise in curing Alzheimer's. And then, if you can find one, a soldier who was paralyzed in Iraq combat saying, "When my commander in chief asked me to fight in Iraq, I went. Now that I am paralyzed, he has told me NO to my best hope to walk again." The conclusion would be John Kerry standing in a group of kids in wheelchairs saying, "I'm John Kerry, and I will say yes to finding cures now."

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This could be a winning issue if Sen. Kerry would stand firm and not cringe when the pro-lifers start their high-pitched squealing. Just remind people that every day we throw away the blastocysts from which cures could come and ask them, how is a disposal bin a better use of that material than curing cancer?

-- Jean Esselink

Manjoo hints at the real reason why Bush doesn't want the government to fund stem cell research. It doesn't have anything to do with ethics, God, or the twisted morals of Bush's Flat Earth followers.

Follow the money.

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If federal money finances research into wonderful new treatments for age-old diseases, who profits? If private money finances that research, who profits?

Has the light clicked on yet?

Are we talking "real money" here? "Harvard has announced plans to raise as much as $100 million in private money to fund a stem cell center to foster work like Melton's, but such luxuries aren't available to every stem cell scientist."

$100 million. That isn't real money to corporate America. That's not even the cost of this year's Super Bowl ads.

"Pharmaceutical companies spent $1.04 billion dollars last year on direct-to-consumer advertising, according to IMS Health, a healthcare information company based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa."

How much would they be willing to spend to sew up the rights to a cure for (insert your favorite telethon here)?

If you want to spend the public's money wisely, don't buy drugs with it. Eliminate the middleman. Develop drugs.

-- Michael Thelen


Salon Staff

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