Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Doyle's Despicable Stem Cell Charade

Would you perpetuate a cruel lie if it would help you win a political office? Would you give false hope to thousands of suffering families if it would help you raise cash for your campaign? If you answered “no,” you clearly aren’t Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

On Doyle’s campaign website, he has a special section devoted to stem cell research, where he says:

Science should never take a back seat to politics and we should never turn our back on the millions of families around the world affected by Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries and juvenile diabetes.
What Doyle doesn’t tell you is that stem cell research doesn’t have anything to do with Alzheimer’s. Good thing science isn't taking a back seat to politics.

Following Ronald Reagan’s death in 2004, stem cell research emerged as a major issue, promising to solve diseases that affect our most vulnerable citizens. Lost in the excitement about what stem cells could do for us was a rational discussion about what stem cells can’t do. As it turns out, no amount of stem cell research would have helped Reagan. In June of 2004, the Washington Post reported:

But given the lack of any serious suggestion that stem cells themselves have practical potential to treat Alzheimer's, the Reagan-inspired tidal wave of enthusiasm stands as an example of how easily a modest line of scientific inquiry can grow in the public mind to mythological proportions. It is a distortion that some admit is not being aggressively corrected by scientists.

"To start with, people need a fairy tale," said Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Maybe that's unfair, but they need a story line that's relatively simple to understand..."

In contrast to Parkinson's, diabetes and spinal injuries, Alzheimer's disease involves the loss of huge numbers and varieties of the brain's 100 billion nerve cells -- and countless connections, or synapses, among them. "The complex architecture of the brain, the fact that it's a diffuse disease with neuronal loss in numerous places and with synaptic loss, all this is a problem" for any strategy involving cell replacement, said Huntington Potter, a brain researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa and chief executive of the Johnnie B. Byrd Institute for Alzheimer's Research.

Even Alzheimer’s advocates dismiss the applicability of stem cells in treatment:

"Stem cells, although they're promising for other diseases, it's not very likely practically that they'll be used for Alzheimer's disease, because the way stem cell replacement is practiced in clinical research is by surgically implanting stem cells into regions of the brain where there has been degeneration, and that's fairly local in terms of Parkinson's disease and Huntington's, but for the entire cerebral cortex you're talking about making dozens of little holes in the skull," says Sam Gandy, MD, PhD, director of the Farber Institute for Neurosciences at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia (and member of the Alzheimer's Association, a national nonprofit advocacy organization).

Sheldon L. Goldberg, president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, tells WebMD that few or none of the 800 or so grant applications for research funding received by the association this year have been for stem cell research.
In fact, physicians across the board don’t believe stem cells hold out any hope for Alzheimer’s patients, the way they do for Parkinson’s and other diseases. But don’t let that get in the way of medical expert Jim "Dr. Dollaz" Doyle, who needs to prey on the false hopes of Alzheimer’s patients and families in order to win re-election.

Just as sickening as Doyle’s malicious mistruths about the nature of stem cells is his naked politicization of such a complicated moral issue. Today, he issued a press release announcing he would be introduced at his party’s ultimate political event, the state Democratic convention, by a mother whose daughter has Type 1 Diabetes. Doyle actually announced today that he's making stem cell research the centerpiece of his convention presentation. If Jim Doyle walked down Wisconsin Avenue handing out stem cells in exchange for homeless votes, it wouldn't be as political as making the issue your convention theme.

This comes right on the heels of a report that the Doyle campaign is paying to advertise their support of stem cell research on internet search engines. People who go to Google searching for terms like “multiple sclerosis” or “stem cells” will find an advertisement from the Doyle campaign inviting them over to their website, where they can conveniently make a campaign contribution. In fact, the ad comes up if you search for “Alzheimer’s Disease,” which means his campaign included it as one of their key words.

So for those of you keeping score at home, "Science should never take a backseat to politics" is being pushed by the guy using key words like "stem cell" to RAISE MONEY FOR HIS CAMPAIGN.

Once at the site, you can learn all about how much money the state can make by encouraging stem cell research, and how evil Republicans are for trying to “criminalize” research. The moral detachment is stunning - it’s as if he’s trying to lure a Krispy Kreme franchise to Madison. Of course, it’s impossible that anybody has a legitimate opposition to cloning human embryos. If they do, it’s just “political.” He has yet to answer why the issue is such a big “political” winner for Republicans when 60% of Wisconsinites support the practice. Of course, one has to wonder how accurate a picture the public is getting when they rely on their governor for information.

The bill as passed by the Legislature, incidentally, didn't prohibit stem cell research - it merely prohibited cloning human embryos for the purpose of killing them to harvest their stem cells. Existing embryos would still be available for research purposes. Someone might want to tell the Democrats that voted for the bill that they're in the wrong party.

Does stem cell research have immense potential? Of course it does. The issue, however, is immensely complicated and has serious moral implications. It certainly doesn’t help when Wisconsin’s governor poisons the well with false information intended to boost his own election prospects. Any legitimate discussion of the issue recognizes the strengths of each side of the argument. Except, of course, when there’s campaign fundraising to do, in which case it is necessary to mislead and demonize.

Doyle’s lies about stem cells aren’t just run of the mill campaigning. They confuse the elderly and their families, and they coarsen the debate about a very serious moral issue. The politicization of the stem cell debate is truly beneath the contempt of any thinking individual. It appears that Doyle will keep up this despicable charade as long as human embryos don’t make campaign contributions.