In 1610, Galileo challenged the popular belief that the earth is the center of the universe when he published findings proving the earth revolved around the sun. After refusing to give into pressure from the Catholic Church, Galileo was punished by the church as a heretic. Not until 1992 did the church, under Pope John Paul II, admit the church had made a mistake by condemning Galileo.
A similar scenario unfolds today as right-wing extremists attempt to stop scientific progress by banning stem-cell research in Wisconsin. This ban would be especially bad for UW-Madison, where stem-cell research began. In 1998, Dr. James A Thomson first isolated stem cells from human embryos. Since then, stem-cell research has expanded and now has the possibility to cure Alzheimer’s, heart disease, Parkinson’s and diabetes.
However, none of this will happen if the right-wing extremists in the Wisconsin Legislature manage to ban the use of stem cells. Such a move would also discourage biotech companies from moving into the state. It does not make sense for the Assembly Republicans to invest in the biotech industry by supporting the new biotech building at UW-Madison, while at the same time trying to stop the reason the building is being created in the first place.
Of course, the stem-cell research debate is not simply a matter of economics; it is about saving lives as well. There is no denying the fact this research can dramatically improve the quality of life for people afflicted by a number of diseases. Researchers are only just beginning to understand the possibilities stem cells can offer.
The main debate over this research is the ethical implications of using human embryos for research. The cells in question usually come from fertility clinics and would otherwise be discarded. The extreme pro-life activists argue these embryos are human lives and doing research on them would be the equivalent of murder. Such members of the radical right control Republican leadership in the State Assembly.
However, the majority of the public does not agree with them. Several notable pro-life Republicans, including former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and Sen. Orin Hatch, have recognized that there is not an ethical question over the research. In addition, many poll numbers show that 72 percent of abortion opponents support the use of stem-cell research. These numbers suggest that the Republican leadership is out of touch with the average person.
Some are arguing for a compromise that would limit the research to the use of adult stem cells, which can be extracted from any living person. However, as scientists begin to explore this option, it has been revealed these adult stem cells do not work as well for research as embryo stem cells. Within the last few months many scientists have been questioning the results and validity of the adult stem-cell research. Settling for such a compromise would only jeopardize stem-cell research by tying the hands of scientists.
Unfortunately, such a compromise is one of the solutions the Bush administration has put forward. Bush, like the Assembly Republicans, is showing his true colors over this debate. He is stalling the administration’s decision because he wants to appease the radical right. It is disappointing that Bush would rather play political games than make a decision that would clearly benefit Americans’ quality of life and the economy.
Stem-cell research should not be part of the abortion debate. It is about science, in an ethical manner, trying to find cures for diseases that unfortunately affect all of our families. The Republicans need to stop thinking the sun revolves around the earth and allow scientists to work to save people’s lives.
— Mike Dean, former chair of the Associated Students of Madison, will write for the Herald bi-weekly next semester.
He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].