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A Very Personal Vote for Stem Cell Research

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This week we'll hear two commentaries that express opposing views of the issue of embryonic stem cells. The first is from commentator Terry Smith.

Mr. TERRY SMITH: I was recently diagnosed as a diabetic, joining millions of other Americans who have Type-2 Diabetes, one of the fastest spreading illnesses in the nation today.

So far I've been able to control my blood-sugar level through diet, exercise and medication. I can even enjoy a glass of wine and, mother of all evils, the occasional ice cream cone. But I am aware of the frightful consequences of this disease when it gets out of control. So I play a lot of tennis and work out, not as often as I should I suppose, but more often than before this diagnosis.

No surprise then that I and many other Americans - there are an estimated twenty million diabetics - paid special attention as the Senate addressed the emotional and politically loaded issue of expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. There are no guarantees, but scientific evidence suggests that such research could provide new treatments and possibly even a cure for numerous diseases, including diabetes.

After years of covering similar debates as a journalist, I've discovered that nothing brings home a public policy issue like the possibility that it could affect you. You evolve very quickly from disinterested observer to participant. I not only want to benefit myself from any treatment that might emerge from embryonic stem cell research, I want my children, Elizabeth(ph) and Christopher(ph), to share that advantage should diabetes prove to be genetic.

President Bush has repeated his opposition to this legislation as recently as this week. He has said that in his view such research, using the estimated four hundred thousand excess embryos that are currently frozen in fertility clinics, crosses an important moral line. He says this despite the fact that most of these frozen embryos would otherwise be discarded. I don't doubt his sincerity, but I do question whether we elect our political leaders to assert their moral or religious views over scientific evidence and, polls suggest, the will of the majority.

Honest men and women can differ over this question, but I have to admit my bias. I have a dog in this fight. The president has pledged to use his first veto on this legislation. I hope he listens to this debate and decides to keep his veto pen in his pocket.

SIEGEL: Terry Smith is a former media correspondent for the NewsHour. We'll hear another opinion on the issue of stem cell research tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Terry Smith