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Why Are We Still Funding This? The Failure of Embryonic Stem Cell Research


I certainly don’t recommend the cartoon “Family Guy,” but in a 2012 episode the main character, Peter Griffin, has a stroke that paralyzes half his body. He stumbles into a stem cell research lab and is cured in five minutes. “Why aren’t we funding this?” he asks.

Well, the show not only got it exactly wrong, it cheated.

Let me explain. The cartoon never delineates whether the research center uses adult stem cells or embryonic stem cells. That difference is everything. Embryonic stem cells are only acquired by destroying human embryos. Acquiring adult stem cells does not require the death of a human embryo.

You might remember this was a central issue of the 2004 presidential election. Democratic nominee John Kerry led the chorus of outlandish promises for embryonic stem cells, shaming George W. Bush’s decision to ban federal funding of embryo destructive research while, for the first time, directing funding for adult stem cell research.

Kerry even claimed that embryonic stem cell research would enable Superman actor Christopher Reeves to “get up and walk again.” For his decision to fund research that did not require destroying an embryo, George W. was accused of “banning stem cell research,” which just wasn’t true.

I’m guessing the “Family Guy” episode was perpetuating the myth that Bush didn’t fund stem cell research. The truth is Bush didn’t fund embryo-destructive stem cell research. And, the Obama Administration lifted the Bush-era ban on embryo-destructive research in 2009, forking over between $100 to $200 million a year in federal funding. In 2012, when that “Family Guy” episode aired, $150 million in federal grants went to embryo-destructive research.

But here’s the thing. Despite all the funding dedicated to embryo-destructive research, embryonic stem cells had not yielded a single viable treatment by 2012, but adult stem cells had. So if Peter Griffin was, in fact, miraculously healed by stem cells, it wasn’t because embryos were destroyed in the process.

In fact, seven years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, there are still zero treatments from embryonic stem cells. But, according to the pro-life think tank Lozier Institute, adult stem cell research “has made significantly more progress, and shown far more real promise, in treating diseases and conditions” than embryonic stem cell research has.

In fact, scores of diseases and condition are now treated using adult stem cells, including brain cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

And, in an amazing breakthrough over a decade ago, Japanese scientists learned to reprogram adult stem cells to behave like embryonic stem cells, with the potency to differentiate into many different types of tissue, but without destroying an embryo. In other words, even if it weren’t so morally problematic, there is simply no reason to destroy embryos in the name of stem cell research anymore.

This raises two questions. First, are we still funding embryo-destructive research? Yes. The question is why are we still funding embryo-destructive research? Over $200 million of federal funding still goes to embryo-destructive stem cell research, and it has every year since President Trump has taken office.

In January, Indiana Representative Jim Banks introduced the Patients First Act of 2019, which would have effectively rerouted all National Institutes of Health funding to adult stem cell research. But, in a Democrat-controlled House, it hasn’t gone anywhere.

This means executive action is necessary. President Trump has already restricted NIH experiments using fetal tissue. It’s likely he’d be willing to end our long national experiment in embryo-destructive research, as well. But he needs to hear from us loud and clear.

Ending this deadly and unethical research, which has brought no miracle cures, should be a cause to unite not just pro-life voters, but all who think taxpayers deserve something for our money.

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BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication dateDecember 3, 2019

Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Rost 9D

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