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Houston Texas

March 2007 Issue



by Lope Lindio

For two times in three years, President George W. Bush vetoed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. This bill would have unlocked a cure to a whole range of diseases, from diabetes and cancer to Alzheimer or Parkinson, among other ailments inflicting humanity. It was considered so far-reaching in significance that a lot of Republicans in Congress, under pressure from their constituents back at home, mustered enough political will and courage to defy Bush's wishes and joined the Democrats in having it enacted. But it was vetoed by Bush just as soon as it got to his desk in 2005, when the Republicans were in control of the House of Representatives, and again on June 20, 2007, even in the face of overwhelming public sentiment in its favor and loud clamors for it to become the law of the land.

He just passed-up another chance to do something real for a change, for goodness sake. In vetoing the bill, he left us a dreadful future with haunting consequences to our quality of life. Instead of bequeathing a lasting legacy, he chose to placate a small but noisy religious and conservative constituency. He gave in to their demands and torpedoed by his veto the dream boat on which rides the hope of the sick for better health.

No wonder, his critics dismissed Bush's veto as a moral affront to millions of Americans and others the world over, whose diseases, incurable they may seem today, might someday become curable because of discoveries in researches on pluripotent - or all-purpose - embryonic stem cells. Honestly, I know nothing about the process or their components. But it is enough for me to know that there are more honest-to-goodness scientists who believe in the research's promise of someday saving the young and old alike, ranging from people who have congenital diseases to those suffering a life burdened with cancer, Alzheimer or Parkinson, among others.

The evangelicals and fundamentalists object to embryonic stem cell research mostly for questionable religious reasons, among other issues that will be too controversial and lengthy for us to discuss here. They believe that when an embryo is discarded after being harvested for research work, a life is lost. The blueprint of how a life is created lies in their convoluted understanding of when life begins. Obviously, this fanatical religious sensitivity of those who see, or even imagine, the makings of a life even in an artificially created embryo has junked the health and welfare of human beings already delivered safely out of a woman's womb.

It is obvious that Mr. Bush, smart that he is, could not have missed to see the benefits to mankind of this procedure. Having just passed the 60-year age benchmark himself, he should be beginning to worry, like all others, of the dangers of old age, when he might have trouble holding his beer steadily without spilling the contents on Laura's pajama. Yet, he just had to veto the bill and run the risk of his memory being scorned for rejecting what truly should have been his contribution to humanity.

That's why President Bush couldn't bring himself to explain personally why he dumped good sense and good science and embraced the extreme ideological and religious convictions of the professional Bible stumpers when he vetoed the bill. He just left it to his press secretary Tony Snow to say that his veto was an attempt to respect peoples conscience on such issue. This uninspiring explanation caused his critics to say that he's putting politics before the needs of people who are dying to free themselves from the terrible scourge of a life raided by any one of a whole range of diseases.

The war in Iraq and his other political difficulties cornered the president to do the bidding of his right wing hard core supporters because he is now isolated and vulnerable for being so unpopular. Only 26% of the Americans approved of his performance in the most recent polls after a series of bad news, bad judgments and bad policy settings, not the least of which is his opposition to the stem cell research. He fully realizes that if this remaining line of defense is withdrawn because of perceived ideological betrayal, his ability to govern will be seriously impaired. His approval rating could dive below 20%. Outside the safe harbor of the right, nothing can protect him from incessant calls of policy adjustments, like troop withdrawals from Iraq , or even perhaps, the uttering of the dreaded unmentionable, his impeachment from office for not obeying the law. He stands accused of knowingly going to war based on twisted facts, for approving illegal short cuts that infringe on peoples' constitutional rights, and for firing US attorneys for political reasons, among others.

One of the major issues used successfully against the Republicans in the 2006 elections was Bush's rejection of the government supporting this potentially life-saving stem cells research. The poster boy of this issue was the actor Michael Fox of the movie classic Back to the Future fame, who has Parkinson's disease. Many candidates lost for coming out against the bill while others won by declaring that they were in favor of its passage. But aside from this political division and debate over the merits of this proposed legislation, and its compelling humanitarian imperative, there's also the not too obvious intellectual and educational value accomplished when the government would encourage a program promoting scientific research as against leaving the country to rely more on superstition or supernatural cure of diseases.

When one's medical prognosis is a cause for concern, he would seize any straws in the wind or believe in anything that would give him a reason to hope. This explains the behavior of some Americans, for example, who take the trip to see fake doctors like Tony Agpaoa of Baguio City , who supposedly could remove cancerous tissues or other parts of the body with his bare hands. Nowadays, faith healers abound in churches and TV religious revival programs on Sundays who would offer special prayers for those hopelessly sick in exchange for donations to support their ministries. Apparently, the snake oil salesmen, televangelists, itinerant faith healers or preachers are making a good living from these people who would believe anything that would give them hope for a cure of their runaway illnesses. Believers even travel far and wide seeking help from reported Mary-like images that may have been made out of the interplay of lights and shadows, and praying before allegedly miraculous bleeding, sweating, smiling, crying, glancing, or even talking images of saints reported to be sighted over the millennia in places as diverse as Palestine, Croatia, South Texas, Mexico, Philippines.

Americans want to be healthy and they would do anything to achieve it. In a poll taken as to where they stand on this Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, a great majority is for the government supporting more research. Clearly, they're sophisticated enough to put their trust more in medical technology than in the usual cures of last resort, like abracadabra incantations, almanac-directed treatments, miracles, or marketed food supplements that are supposed to cure every imaginable illness of the human body. It would have been nice if President Bush joined them, leading his fellow Americans to a new level of intellectual curiosity from the bull pulpit of the presidency, or at least marching along side them, rather than acting like a child left behind.

But in any case, the study of science and the practice of religion can be reconciled. As US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi aptly commented, if the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 became law, it would have made Science as a gift of God to all of us, and science has taken us to a place that is biblical in its power to cure.

(Lopelindio@AOL. com)

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