Jewish World Review August 16, 2004 / 29 Menachem-Av 5764

Paul Greenberg

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Meet Dr. Kerry and his cure for Alzheimer's | Teresa Heinz Kerry isn't the only spouse in this year's presidential race who can let fly. Quiet, ladylike Laura Bush seems to have finally had it with John Kerry's playing doctor. Specifically, his repeating the words Stem Cell Research like a magic spell that'll cure Alzheimer's and maybe every other ill the flesh is heir to.

Dr. Kerry recites his mantra like a magician saying Abracadabra! What he doesn't emphasize is that he's advocating experimentation on human embryos.

It all got to be too much for our usually quiet-spoken, every-hair-in-place First Lady, who suddenly morphed into Scrappy Wife of Presidential Candidate. "That's so ridiculous," Laura Bush told an AP reporter.

And it is. No reputable scientist I've ever heard of (as opposed to Dr. Kerry) is claiming that experimenting with human embryos is going to cure Alzheimer's.

That's because Alzheimer's seems to be a deterioration of the brain in general rather than some localized, cellular disorder that would benefit by an injection of stem cells.

Or as Rick Weiss put it in the Washington Post, some abstract knowledge might be gained by such research, but "stem-cell experts confess . that of all the diseases that may someday be cured by embryonic stem-cell treatments, Alzheimer's is among the least likely to benefit."

To pretend otherwise may be good election-year politics, but it's also a cruel hoax. To quote Laura Bush: "I hope that stem-cell research will yield cures and therapies for a myriad of illnesses. But I know that embryonic stem-cell research is very preliminary, and the implication that cures for Alzheimer's are around the corner is just not right, and it's really not fair to the people who are watching a loved one suffer from this disease." As her late father did.

John Kerry tends to glide over the word embryonic when he speaks of stem-cell research, which allows him to leave the impression that this administration has not funded stem-cell research in general. Although it has-to a greater extent than any previous one. It's just drawn the line on experiments involving living human embryos.

The difference between George W. Bush's approach and Senator Kerry's is that the president has taken seriously the ethical problems raised by this kind of experimentation.

The president, after conferring with scientists and ethicists, and appointing a distinguished panel to discuss the ethics of such research, came up with a compromise he clearly hoped would both respect human life and improve it-by setting aside 78 embryonic stem-cell lines already in existence for research. But only about 15 of them have proved available for federally funded research, and the limits may have to be expanded.

Naturally, with all its restrictions, this approach displeased both those who think nothing of destroying human life for scientific purposes and those of us who have the gravest reservations about using stem-cell lines that have been derived even from others' destruction of human life.

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Whatever one thinks of the course George W. Bush chose, he took the ethical problem seriously. John Kerry just brushes it aside. What th' heck, these embryos might be thrown away anyway, so let's use 'em!

When it comes to the ethical questions posed by embryonic stem-cell research, John Kerry simply dismisses them: "It is entirely within ethical bounds to do embryonic stem-cell research without violating one's beliefs at all about what life is and what matters."

To the senator, this stage of human life just doesn't matter. It's not a developing human being but just a microscopic ball of cells that we can use. (Never mind that we've all been just that at one point.)

Senator Kerry also seems indifferent to the likelihood that government funding for stem-cell research would soon enough lead to highly profitable embryo farms in order to supply the demand for human building blocks. For this debate isn't just about life and death, medical science and false hopes, but commerce.

Hey, it's an election year, and a presidential candidate needs every emotional issue he can exploit. Even if, like this one, it has to be simplified beyond any reasonable resemblance to science. There are a lot of desperate people out there eager for cures, and they vote.

John Kerry has co-opted those scientists who, seeing either profit or career advancement in embryonic stem-cell research, have failed to speak out about the profound questions, life-and-death questions, such experimentation raises. They've let the senator get away with pretending that embryonic stem-cell research is some kind of magic wand he can wave over Alzheimer's and make it disappear. To quote clear-eyed Laura Bush, that's ridiculous.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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