First, Do No Harm : Issue Topics : Lauzen for Congress Committee
This column was written on January 08, 2007. Recent news stories on scientific advancements in stem-cell research (See: New York Times
) show that ethical and moral progress in improving people's lives can be accomplished without destroying the lives of others.
First, Do No Harm
By Senator Chris Lauzen
In the next six months, I anticipate that there will be a vote in the General Assembly to legalize spending $125,000,000 of taxpayer funds to conduct controversial and speculative embryonic stem cell research. Although financial experts have recently made the case that Illinois is insolvent considering only its current obligations, our attention will be diverted from education, property taxes, safe transportation, and reduction of pervasive corruption by seductive promises of cures for diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer's, and even cancer.
I support privately-funded stem cell research that does not destroy innocent human life. Obviously, we all want cures for diseases; the question is, "What are we willing to sacrifice to get them?"
A human embryo, a fertilized egg, unites the essential genetic material that defines an individual human being. In the process of embryonic stem cell research as it is currently practiced, scientists replace and discard the original life within the egg with foreign genetic material that they prefer to grow there instead. The unique identity of an individual human being vanishes for eternity.
Naturally, we all want cures for diseases. My grandfather suffered from diabetes. My brother suffers from it now. My sister survived juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It was tragic to watch my father slowly debilitated by a neurodegenerative disease. Every person who reads this newspaper has a stake in the success of scientists, although eventually each of us will lose our struggle with immortality.
There are at least three major areas of reason why all conscientious legislators ought to hesitate before they leap onto the bandwagon of approving $125,000,000 of taxpayer money to fund embryonic stem cell research, i.e. moral compromise, scientific productivity and non-destructive alternatives, and fiscal irresponsibility.
Ask yourself the question, "When is the cure for my disease more important than your life or your individual human identity?" Responsible human beings have recognized from the beginning of medicine that there need to be limits to what some are willing to do to others in the name of research. Hippocrates, the Greek philosopher and father of medicine, taught the first medical ethic, "First, do no harm", in his Hippocratic Oath. The unique identity of an individual human being is the first casualty to this research as it is currently done.
The destruction of an embryo is not necessary to derive the greatest portion of research benefits in two ways. First, patients with 58 different medical conditions have been helped by adult and umbilical cord stem cell research, where an embryo is not destroyed. However, no clinical cures have been produced so far as a result of embryonic stem cell research. Secondly, researchers like Professor Kevin Eggan at the Harvard University Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Dr. George Daley of Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School are working on techniques like fusion regeneration and parthenogenesis which represent a third, non-destructive alternative where the embryo is not sacrificed. When they succeed, this entire divisive debate will disappear.
A truly extreme position in this controversy would be to stubbornly insist upon controversial and speculative research that requires the destruction of a human embryo.
Finally, beware of what proponents are actually promising. They speculate that spending $125,000,000 of taxpayer money will produce cures. However, they know that these results are not guaranteed. Politicians promise to balance a budget, but don't deliver. They promise to properly fund education, but don't deliver. They promise to provide utility rate relief, but don't deliver. And, they promise to pay their current Medicaid obligations to local health care providers on-time, but don't deliver. These promises are relatively straightforward and have been broken. But now, with this latest proposal, they want us to believe that our tax money will produce cures for every disease. How many times do we need to be disappointed before we discern the consistent pattern of the unreliability but constant overreach of distant government?
Most of the people I serve distinguish between good research that heals physically and spiritually, and bad research that destroys. They recognize that the most immediate therapies are from adult and umbilical cord stem cell research, and in the long-run from non-destructive embryonic stem cell research. We need to approach these decisions with humility and patient hard work. We should study and incorporate the thoughts of our best ethicists, scientists, fiscal experts, and moral leaders. Now is the time for these men and women to have their voices heard.
A similar proposal was defeated by majorities in the Illinois House and Senate in November 2004. I also join Congressman Hastert and President Bush in their defense of human life by opposing the unnecessary destruction of human embryos with federal funds. We must act now to avoid choosing a path that leads to regret about what we have sacrificed and might become in the name of unbridled scientific experimentation.
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