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DETROIT FREE PRESS

Bush's Stem Cell Veto: Whom Does It Save?

By Mitch Albom

Consider this scenario: Many years from now, some great-granddaughter of President George W. Bush is crippled in a car accident. There are treatments available that will heal her wounded spinal cord. But the doctor shakes his head and says, "I'm sorry, your great-grandfather didn't support our research, so we're not going to help you."

That would be cruel, right? Turning your back on someone in need?

No crueler than what Bush did last week.

There are people dying in this country from conditions that might be cured through embryonic stem cell research. Their children may be prone to similar afflictions.

Yet with a staged backdrop that was as hypocritical as it was arrogant, Bush used the first veto of his presidency to put a kibosh on funding more stem cell research. This, despite 63 yes votes in the Senate and 70% of Americans being in favor of it.

In a presidency already peppered with questionable decisions, this may go down as the most stubborn and selfish of them all.

Now, put down your pens if you're going to write me about abortion, because you'll be falling into the very trap that the president and his handlers set for you: to make you believe this is all about that issue. It is not.

Keep one thing in mind as we discuss this - the embryos in question here are being thrown away. Disposed of. Tossed out. And thanks to this veto, they will continue to be. Bush never mentioned this once in his well-orchestrated event. But it's true.

Bill carefully constructed

The bill that Bush vetoed was painfully constructed to avoid abuse. It insisted that only extra, discarded embryos from fertility clinics - and only when the donor of those embryos gave written approval and was not paid for them - could be used for research.

Yet Bush made it seem as if scientists would be grabbing babies from mothers' wombs.

"This bill would support the taking of innocent human life ..." he said. "Each of these human embryos is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value."

OK. If Bush's believes that, why isn't he closing down every fertility clinic in America right now? Almost any woman who goes in for fertility treatments ends up producing more embryos than are implanted. According to Dr. Sue O'Shea, the director of the Michigan Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, "per treatment, approximately 20 to 30 individual embryos get thrown away."

That's per woman, per treatment. If, as Bush insists, these embryos are little people, that's 20-30 murders per patient, right?

Where is the outrage?

Thousands of embryos available

Instead, with babies crying behind him, Bush ignored that question and proudly noted that embryos could be adopted, as some mothers in the room had done. So? How would this bill have stopped that? According to Sen. Arlen Specter and others, there have only been around 128 adoptions of such embryos in the last nine years. And since there are currently around 400,000 frozen embryos, clearly anyone who wants to adopt one can do so. That still leaves the unused ones to be thrown out.

And if you do that, you are surely showing them less respect than using them for potential cures for Alzheimer's, diabetes or ALS.

"Crossing this line would be a mistake," Bush said. But those are code words for what this is all about: making it look, sound and feel like the abortion debate. Yet, much as this pains people to hear, abortion is legal in America. So fetuses can be aborted but tiny cells about to be thrown out can't be used for research? We don't see the hypocrisy in that?

We're heard all the tired objections: We have enough stem cells. You can get them elsewhere. Scientists have negated these arguments. Even usual Bush-supporters such as Nancy Reagan and Bill Frist supported this bill. The research will go on - despite Bush - through private funding and in foreign countries. But it will be slower, and future patients who might be saved will die.

You wonder if one of those future patients will be one of Bush's great-grandchildren. If so, I hope that person is given help. It would be a kinder fate than what great-granddaddy just delivered to others.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.