Congressman Clarifies Ronald Reagan-Embryonic Stem Cell Research Debate

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Congressman Clarifies Ronald Reagan-Embryonic Stem Cell Research Debate Note: Congressman Dave Weldon of Florida, gave the following speech on the floor of the House of Representatives on June 14, 2004. Weldon is also a medical doctor.

Mr. WELDON of Florida — "Mr. Speaker, last week, our Nation mourned the loss of a great leader, Ronald Reagan. He led our Nation through a turbulent period of time. When he came to office, we were struggling with significant problems; with unemployment and inflation, and we were facing a significant threat from our Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan´s policies, as we all know, helped lift us out of depression, tamed inflation, and ultimately led to the breakup of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the Berlin war, and freedom for millions of Eastern Europeans.

By and large, the celebration of the life of Ronald Reagan, I thought, was outstanding, except for what I would describe as one sour note.

Repeatedly, liberals in the press and advocates for embryonic stem cell research were bringing this issue up as it relates to Ronald Reagan´s Alzheimer´s disease, indeed, holding out the absurd hope that embryonic stem cells could somehow be used one day to treat Alzheimer´s disease.

Indeed, many people were implying by their comments and words that the policies pursued by George Bush limited access to embryonic stem cells out of a desire to avoid destroying human embryos. And that is really the essence of the controversial issue here, because to do human embryonic stem cell research you have to destroy a human embryo, a human life, in order to gather the cells.

One newspaper, The Washington Post, even editorialized that if George Bush were to allow the destruction of human embryos, this would be a fitting tribute to the life of President Reagan. In that same newspaper, the very next day, was an article reporting how embryonic stem cells are unlikely ever to be useful in the treatment of Alzheimer´s disease.

Indeed, one of the lead researchers in the United States, Dr. Ronald McKay, stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told Washington Post reporter Rick Weiss, "People need a fairy tale." And he went on to explain how "Alzheimer´s disease is a whole-brain disease. It is not a cellular disease, and it is unlikely that embryonic stem cells would ever be useful for treating such a condition."

Now, what are the facts? What is the truth in this whole controversy? Because it is indeed a very confusing subject and it is very easy for poorly-informed reporters to mislead the public.

Well, the truth is embryonic stem cells have never been used to treat any human being for any disease ever. You will hear people repeatedly say that they hold great promise, supposedly. But as a matter of fact, they have never been used to treat anything. Even in animal models, where you use mouse or rat embryonic stem cells, they do not even have a good animal model to treat an animal disease with embryonic stem cells.

However, adult stem cells, which are the stem cells that we get from our body, as opposed to destroying a human embryo to get the stem cells, our body is full of stem cells. They are in our bone marrow, in our fat, they are even in our nose.

Adult stem cells have been used in humans to treat Parkinson´s Disease, to partially restore vision to someone who is legally blind, relieve systemic lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cure severe combined immunodeficiency disease, treat several types of cancers, such as leukemias, solid tumors, neuroblastomas, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and renal cell carcinoma.

Adult stem cells have been used to treat multiple sclerosis, treat children with the bubble boy syndrome, and treat heart failure in humans. Indeed, the FDA just recently approved a protocol to use adult stem cells in treating heart failure in humans.

So what is all the hub-bub? Why are all these people running around saying they want the Federal Government to fund all this embryonic stem cell research when it has really never been shown that it will have a clinical application, meanwhile the adult stem cells are showing all this great promise? Why is all this going on?

Well, the truth is that embryonic stem cell research is perfectly legal in the United States. There are no laws preventing it from being done. Every lab in America could do embryonic stem cell research. The issue here is who is going to pay for it, and the facts are that industry does not want to pay for it. They want the Federal Government to pay for it. The Federal government should not. It is unnecessary research and it is unethical.