George A. Sprecace M.D., J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New London, P.C.

Point and Counterpoint: Abortion and Alternatives - Article 18, for Sunday, September 3, 2006

Politics and Stem Cells

Recently the Democratic governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, created an executive order to fund millions of dollars for embryonic stem cell research garnering criticism from Pro-life groups and both Republican and Democratic legislators who had voted against legislation for such expenditures.  It did not help that this was the second time he used such a maneuver.

One of the grants was for $1.1 million to establish a stem cell research institute at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.  It will be named the Southern Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute under the direction of Dr. Stuart Adler, presently an associate professor of physiology at the Carbondale, IL campus.  Dr. Adler indicated that the institute would “undertake the most cutting-edge research in the area of human embryonic stem cells”.  Undoubtedly these and other human embryonic stem cell research proposals funded by these grants will result in the killing of human embryos.

The grant is also to be used to train SIU medical students in ethics regarding the use of stem cells.  One wonders if potential instructors of the ethics course will have to pass a litmus test requiring acceptance of the killing of human embryos for their stem cells as ethical behavior.

Not all the grants involved human embryonic stem cells.  Several are using umbilical cord blood cells which, you may recall, we discussed in an earlier column as a new area of research.  Dr. Jasti Rao, Professor and Head, Department of Cancer Biology and Pharmacology, University of Illinois College of Medicine, Peoria, said of another grant that “This multi-disciplinary project will include a unique collaboration with basic and clinical faculty to study the role of umbilical cord blood stem cells in various types of cancers (breast, prostate, lung, leukemia, melanoma, etc.) and in spinal cord injury …”

Meanwhile back in Washington, D.C., President Bush vetoed legislation which would have provided funding of human embryonic stem cell research projects which would have involved killing human embryos.  The veto was to block a very well defined procedure.  It does not block stem cell research in general.  The federal government awards millions of dollars for stem cell research which does not involve that one specific procedure.  The day after the veto, Democratic governor Blagojevich  issued his executive order justifying it by saying inter alia “President Bush’s action yesterday  was a clear indication that stem cell research will get no support from Washington as long as he occupies the White House.”  That’s politics.

The federal legislators did not have enough votes to override the veto and seemed content to wait until after the 2008 elections to bring it forward again.  However, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said they would try to pass the bill again next year.  This once again points out the importance of all our elected officials local, state and federal and the need to keep them informed of our thoughts.

Peter Moore, PhD    George A. Sprecace, M.D., J.D.

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