Right-Wing Dishonesty In the Stem Cell Debate

The House will vote today on two bills related to stem cell funding. One bill would provide funding for embryonic stem cell research, the procedure which holds the greatest possibility for medical advancement due to the various types of cells it can generate. A second bill being offered by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) would provide federal funds to research stem cells from umbilical cords, a procedure that can only reliably produce blood cells.

The umbilical bill is a canard, proffered by radical conservatives so that they can say they’re supporting something. As Roll Call reports, right-wingers hope the umbilical cord bill will “give cover to conservatives who oppose federal funding for embryonic research but are wary of getting on the wrong political side of the issue.”

The worst part of this whole debate is the deception and dishonesty being carried out by conservatives who want to claim umbilical stem cells are no different from embryonic stem cells. The Washington Post writes:

“Published studies have shown that [umbilical] cord blood stem cells have the capacity to change into other cell types, which give them the potential to treat . . . debilitating conditions such as spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s, diabetes and heart disease,” [Rep. Chris] Smith said in a recent statement.


But several researchers said that statement stretches the truth of what is known about umbilical cord cells… Umbilical and embryonic stem cells “are not in any way interchangeable,” said David Scadden, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and chief of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Regenerative Medicine and Technology.

Even Bush acknowledged the difference in these two types of procedures when he announced his stem cell policy in August 2001:

You should also know that stem cells can be derived from sources other than embryos — from adult cells, from umbilical cords that are discarded after babies are born, from human placenta… However, most scientists, at least today, believe that research on embryonic stem cells offer the most promise because these cells have the potential to develop in all of the tissues in the body.

If Bush vetoes federal funding of embryonic stem cell research as he has pledged, he and other right-wingers should at least be honest with the facts and not provide false hope to an American public seeking true scientific progress.