and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
March #4

Advanced research could put state on dangerous path
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, March 25, 2005

Sure glad I didn't say anything negative when Louise Brown was born. I'd be eating my words with the birthday cake every time we celebrate another year in the lives of my twin grandkids, two beautiful products of "in vitro" fertilization.

The first "test tube baby" was controversial with some; others, like me, referred to her as a "miracle baby." I imagined a day when they could keep a baby in a tube until it was big enough for an artificial womb. It would be neat to visit the "maternity center" and watch your baby develop, then take it home without the exhausting event of actual childbirth.

I am usually intrigued by scientific achievements and would probably, given the ability, resources, and legal allowance, be presently cloning everything from my mother to my pet fish. I'd want to clone my father too, but he wouldn't approve, and he would be right. "Time out" with the radical scientific advances until the ordinary moral references catch up.

But I am not, by inclination, a natural ally of those who want to prohibit embryonic stem cell research. It doesn't bother me when excess embryos are destroyed during the "in vitro" creative process; my personal belief system has human life beginning later than the embryo phase. It seems to me that it is better not to waste them, if it's possible to find cures for terrible diseases that plague the already born.

However, I'm not an ally of proponents of embryonic stem cell research either. I sense that something is wrong here.

First of all, I recognize that others have different belief systems than mine; they believe that the soul, the person, begins at conception and its physical vessel should never be destroyed. I respect that, and would never tell those with religious objections that they must pay for a process that they consider a terrible sin.

Many proponents of this research, especially in political debate, imply that it has been prohibited because of the Bush administration. But the prohibition is on public funding, not research. Embryonic stem cell research can be done now by private entities. And I have to wonder, if it is as promising as proponents say, why private businesses and universities aren't raising money from investors who want a chance to get rich on the latest potential cure for whatever. Why do they have to force taxpayers to contribute, especially when some taxpayers find it morally painful?

Sometimes the private sector sees too much risk for too uncertain benefit, and urges the government to rush in where they prefer not to tread, unsubsidized. From all I've read, the talk about imminent cures from stem cells is very premature. Researchers are finding more treatments and promise in adult stem cells for now.

Despite my empathy with the "mad scientist" mentality that can't resist seeing what it can do, I think the government has a role to play in preventing the consequences of madness, and cloning should be banned. The urgency to move forward with embryonic stem cell research could be reflecting a biotech commercialism that has no ethical grounding and would clone anything that moved if there was money to be made.

The bill filed by Senate President Robert Travaglini to promote human embryonic stem cell research is presently in the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee. Members and staffers, according to the State House News Service, are "now trying to write a bill that will appeal to (Gov. Mitt) Romney and others who oppose the therapeutic cloning of embryos that are later destroyed, but want the state to compete for the jobs and potential health benefits associated with such research."

Massachusetts, with its research and medical ascendancy, not to mention the huge Harvard University endowment, should be able to compete without government help. Yes, we are told that other state governments are using their taxpayer dollars to lure biotech talent their way. It reminds me of the arguments, a few years back, that we couldn't keep our baseball and football teams unless we offered them the same taxpayer goodies that other states were offering. You may have noticed that with little government investment, Massachusetts teams have won both the World Series and the Super Bowl since that debate.

Our government needs to finish the Big Dig first, and get it right. Do something about the backlog in the courts and the crime labs. Fix some potholes and bridges.

Allow me to mention some other things with which the state could busy itself: education reform; safe havens for DSS children; those who are mentally ill or retarded; public safety; Medicaid; health insurance; auto insurance reform; pension reform; redistricting reform. And a more friendly tax and regulatory climate might encourage biotech leaders and firms, along with other economy enhancing businesses, to settle here.

If instead of doing its job in the traditional government arena, the state starts down the road of involvement in stem cell research, can waste, inefficiency, political favoritism, scandal and federal hearings be far behind?

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.