Copyright © 2004 Henrietta W. Hay
On Stem Cell Research
June 18, 2004
In a democracy politics enters the most sober events. Most Americans
probably watched at least parts of the state funeral of President Reagan
last week. One very moving sight in the week's ceremonies was Nancy
Reagan's face. When she was a First Lady, I thought she was
extravagant and shallow. Last week she seemed to be a very strong
woman. She showed the intense grief and fatigue she undoubtedly felt,
but she acted with dignity and strength to honor her husband, fully
aware of the millions of eyes on her.
The tragedy of the Reagan family for the past ten years is widely
known. In 1994 Reagan wrote a letter to the nation stating that he had
Alzheimer's. The family's courage in making this public raised public
awareness and gave a huge boost to Alzheimer's research. and public
recognition of this disease which is shared by 4 million Americans.
And in the past three years Nancy Reagan has become a leader in
promoting stem cell research, which most researchers are convinced
may eventually cure or at least ease Alzheimer's, and a number of other
Just last month Nancy strongly endorsed this research and made a plea to
take this important work out of the political field. She spoke at a
fundraising dinner for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She
spoke of her husband who "is now in a distant place where I can no
longer reach him..... Because of this I am determined to do whatever
can to save other families from this pain. I just don't see how we can
turn our back on this...We have lost so much time already. I just
really can't bear to lose any more." She added that she believes that
stem cell research "may provide our scientists with many answers that
for so long have been beyond our grasp." This is believed to be the
first time she has spoken out publicly on the issue, although her views
have been widely known.
But the Bush administration has placed strict limitations on such
So we have the most famous conservative Republican woman taking serious
issue with the current conservative Republican president.
Most of us in the non-scientific world don't know much about stem
cells. One of my doctor friends defined it as a cell that is immature,
that still has the ability to become of the many cells in our bodies.
Embryonic stem cells can become anything-- muscle, bone, blood etc.
As we age most of the stem cells become specific.
The Bush Administration has denied federal money for anything but the
most restricted research.
His supporters believe that the use of an embryonic stem cell, smaller
than the point of a pin, is destruction of a human life, comparable to
abortion. His opponents say that there are an estimated 400,000
embryonic stem cells currently frozen in in vitro clinics which are
already destined for destruction.
The president chose to send his wife out to speak against Nancy's
cause. On CBS when asked whether her husband was ready to endorse the
research, she said, "No." ABC's "Good Morning America" she said, "It
it's a very delicate line. We have to -- it's something that has to be
carefully, because we're balancing scientific interests with ethical
Many Senators and Representatives of both parties have signed letters
to Bush asking that the restrictions be removed. So far he won't budge.
So along with abortion, stem cell research has become a political buzz
word. What next?