Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Gov. Doyle's $750 Million Stem Cell Proposal

Actor Michael J. Fox visited UW Madison's Waisman Center today to help Governor Doyle promote his proposed $750 million investment in stem cell research. In a coincidence that almost seemed staged, researchers at UW Madison announced yesterday that they had finally caused embryonic stem cells to become spinal motor neurons after many years of trial and error.

One reason scientists have had difficulty making motor neurons, [biologist Su-Chun] Zhang believes, may be that they are one of the earliest neural structures to emerge in a developing embryo. With the ticking clock of development in mind, Zhang and his team deduced that there is only a thin sliver of time - roughly the third and fourth week of human development - in which stem cells could be successfully prodded to transform themselves into spinal motor neurons.

I hope I'm not the only one who got a chill reading that. In all the congratulations these researchers are giving themselves, there doesn't seem to be any acknowledgment of the ethics of harvesting stem cells from a three or four-week old embryo. Or to put it more bluntly -- the creation of life for the purpose of destroying it.

I'd mentioned Governor Doyle's $750 million proposal last November in an entry about the success in adult stem cell therapy. After California citizens voted to spend $3 million in stem cell research, Doyle apparently had to go one better -- or 747 million better. At the time of his announcement he crowed "Other states, like California, are trying to play catch-up and build from scratch what we already have."

Whatever. All I know is that my taxpayer money will be going to create and destroy embryos to harvest their stem cells, and the Governor doesn't seem to acknowledge that there's anything controversial about this.

There also seems little acknowledgment from these people that practical advances have been made using adult stem cells, while nothing has been achieved from embryonic stem cells. The research should focus on the areas where we've seen successes. But we're going to spend millions of dollars on wishes and fairy dust anyway.

My only consolation is that, as far as I can tell, part of the research that will be done with my tax money does involve adult stem cells. But part of the research does not, and that makes all the difference.

Correction: A reader has correct the figure given above. California voters approved $3 billion, with a B, not $3 million, which makes Doyle's comment about California having to catch up to Wisconsin rather bizarre. Still, at least in California it was put to a vote in the general election. Will Governor Doyle put a referendum on the ballot in Wisconsin?


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