Once again, government rushes in where business fears to tread.
Just before Christmas, the National Institutes of Health made three more lines of embryonic stem cells eligible for federal funding.
Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that a month before, a major private company decided that there was no profit in embryonic stem cell research?
You see, in November, the drug company Geron announced that it would be abandoning its embryonic stem cell research program. Geron was a leader in the embryonic stem cell field, the first company to be approved to run trials with these stem cells.
Geron’s particular project — treating spinal cord injuries — was incredibly ambitious, and Geron’s willingness to spend money on it showed a seemingly unshakeable faith in the power of embryonic stem cells.
So why did Geron abandon the trial? I wish I could say that it was for ethical reasons, but that is not the case.
Its decision was due to the hard facts of economics: There’s no market for a product that doesn’t work! As you probably know, for years we’ve been told that the use of embryonic stem cells, which destroy human embryos — that is, people — will lead to miracle cures for all kinds of diseases and conditions. The problem for embryonic stem cell advocates is that they failed to produce a single cure.
Geron’s decision shows that private companies will not put funds into something which has no possibility of profit. Drug companies all the time spend billions because they know it will pay when they get the results. But the cold economic reality here was that Geron had to abandon embryonic stem cells research because it isn’t economically viable.
But economic reality is clearly no barrier to the federal government, which barely a month later decided to make more taxpayer funds available for this ethically barbaric and ultimately unprofitable line of research. Scientists want the money to do research whether there is any payoff at the end or not.
Never mind that adult stem cells, which are produced without the destruction of embryos, are continuing to show promise and are already being used to treat over 70 diseases and medical conditions. Just this year, a team of UCLA researchers showed they can be used to engineer blood cells that could attack skin cancer. They hope this discovery will lead to treatments of other types of cancer as well. And a firm in Israel has recently started using them to slow the progress of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
All of this goes to show that we can care for the sick and suffering and use the best science to help them without destroying other lives, as embryonic stem cell research does. Scientific advancement and the sacredness of human life don’t have to stand opposed to each other.
But when it looks like they do, we are right to stand for the sanctity of life.
Scientific knowledge can change, of course – in fact, it does so all the time. But the fact that human lives are precious and made in the image of God will never change. And when we ignore that, it seems like the science and even the economics don’t work out very well.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.
Publication date: January 16, 2012