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
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
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
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
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.