The CIRM was to be the great hope for cures for millions of Americans suffering from incurable diseases. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine was created by 59 percent of California voters in 2004 and given $3 billion in tax dollars to pursue cures by killing human embryos and taking their embryonic stem cells.
Now, 16 years later, CIRM is running out of cash and needs to come back to California voters and ask for more funding. Will voters give it to them?
The first question all people should ask is this: what price should society put on purposefully taking one human life to help another? For people who value every human life, the answer is each life is invaluable, and that such actions erode the fundamental nature of rights. It also subtly subverts the fundamental role of medicine in saving lives.
The second question—for those who aren't persuaded by those arguments—is this: will it work? What will the return on their investment be? How many cures have the CIRM researchers developed using human embryonic stem cells?
The CIRM was not the only player in the gold rush for stem cell cures in the first decade of the 21st century. Michigan voters narrowly approved a state constitutional amendment to allow taking human life for medical research in 2008. Other states saw votes and debates as well. Presidents and Congress clashed over this issue. One thing in common to all of these debates were promises of endless cures for basically every major condition you can think of, even conditions like Alzheimer's that appear to be incurable through stem cell treatments.
Opposing these wild claims were prolife groups and others who pointed out the extensive problems with human embryonic stem cell research ever being utilized, including risks, practicality, and basic science. Prolifers pointed out that ethical alternatives like adult stem cells had already shown real results and newer forms of personalized regenerative medicine would quickly overtake human embryonic stem cell research.
Let's revisit these claims.
In 2004, now-disgraced vice presidential candidate John Edwards promised voters that if they voted for John Kerry for president, famous actor Christopher Reeves and others with spinal cord injuries will walk again. Today, no treatment for spinal cord injuries exists using human embryonic stem cell research. Adult stem cell treatments continue to be pioneered, however, and have shown real benefits.
Also in 2004, Ron Reagan, son of former President Ronald Reagan, spoke at the Democratic National Convention about human embryonic stem cells. He promised listeners cures to Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and more. Today no treatments for those conditions exist using human embryonic stem cell research and no cure is even on the horizon.
Contrary to Reagan's promises, current research using induced pluripotent stem cells is moving towards a clinic trial for Parkinson's. Adult stem cells have been able to reduce symptoms in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis. Researchers are attacking diabetes in mice by combining adult stem cells with drug therapy. These are just a handful of examples of ethical stem cell sources that show as much promise as human embryonic stem cells once did, or are actually helping treat some patients today.
In Michigan, supporters of Proposal 2 in 2008 promised cures as well. They touted a study claiming 770,000 lives could be saved. They also made a bevy of other promises: a renaissance for regenerative medicine in the state, a solution to Michigan's health care crisis, health care savings of $80 million a year, business revenue of $27 million. Michigan would step out of the "dark ages" and become a global leader in fighting disease.
After 10 years, did these claims actually come true? Did we even get a biomedical renaissance for the price of sacrificing human life? The most vocal University of Michigan researcher backing the proposal, Dr. Sean Morrison, left the state for Texas a couple of years after passage. Maybe Michigan is still in the dark ages after all.
So far the only people who truly benefited from Proposal 2 were the campaign consultants and signature gatherers paid to promote the constitutional amendment.
Voters in California will hopefully reexamine the many claims backers of the CIRM made and the false hope they promised to people suffering from terminal illness. So far the only success the CIRM is relying on for their latest sales pitch involves adult stem cells. If regenerative medicine institutes had abandoned Quixotic and unethical forms of research at the beginning, imagine how much closer we might be to effective treatments for suffering patients. Maybe backers of the CIRM could turn a new leaf and not lie to voters this time?
It's understandable that people suffering from disease and their family members want to see cures right around the corner. These people deserve many things, including honesty. Every human being deserves the promise that their life will be valued and respected, and ignoring the value of some human beings will never benefit us all in the long-term.
It's well past time for Americans to abandon unethical research with diminishing hope of ever working out.