[FoRK] Gunning for stem-cell naysayers

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Wed May 25 06:11:59 PDT 2005

Sanity on the Hill?  I don't believe it.


Gunning for Stem-Cell Naysayers

By Kristen Philipkoski

Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,67628,00.html

02:00 AM May. 25, 2005 PT

A pioneer of grass-roots internet movements is mobilizing a campaign  
to oust any legislator who opposes embryonic stem-cell research.

John Hlinko, the brains behind DraftWesleyClark.com, one of the most  
successful online grass-roots political movements so far, is creating  
a political action committee to raise funds and galvanize support for  
embryonic stem-cell research.

Hlinko's new crusade is in response to President Bush's threat to  
veto legislation supporting embryonic stem-cell research.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 238-194 to fund  
embryonic stem-cell research using government money, and a similar  
bill looks likely to pass in the senate. But Bush promised that if  
the bill lands on his desk, he will kill it.

That got Hlinko's goat. Hlinko, vice president of marketing at PR  
firm Grassroots Enterprise in Washington, D.C., was already laying  
the groundwork for a pro-embryonic-stem-cell research PAC, but news  
of Bush's veto threat accelerated his efforts.

"If anyone really cares about this issue ... now is the time to put  
the 'ass' in 'grass roots' and get off their asses and do something,"  
Hlinko said. "We want to very strategically do whatever is necessary  
to remove from office those extremists who are frankly blocking stem- 
cell research. Anyone putting theoretical possible life ahead of  
actual life is someone who should not be in office."

Hlinko plans to use many of the same tactics that helped him raise  
nearly $2 million in pledges and get Gen. Wesley Clark nominated as a  
2004 presidential candidate.

Hlinko said he recruited 50,000 volunteers and attracted more web  
traffic than any presidential campaign other than the one for Howard  
Dean. He was interviewed by major media outlets, including CNN's  
Crossfire and The New York Times, and increased Clark's approval  
rating from 1 percent when the campaign began to 22 percent when  
Clark announced his candidacy.

"This effort will make very heavy use of the internet to go after  
these candidates," Hlinko said. "We will be extremely aggressive,  
extremely efficient and extremely creative."

Hlinko, who also founded ActForLove.org, a dating site for activists,  
said he expects even more success with the stem-cell effort because  
this time, it's personal.

His nephew was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a fatal, inherited  
disorder of the central nervous system. And Hlinko believes his  
chances of success are bolstered by the legions of Americans with  
family members or friends facing disorders that might be treated by  
the fruits of embryonic stem-cell research.

Passionate pleas on the House floor Tuesday made it clear this is an  
issue that crosses party lines when individuals encounter disease or  
injury. Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-California) had to pause to compose  
himself as he expressed support for the bill.

"I am for life and I'm for the quality of life, but I don't want  
another 6-year-old to die," Cunningham said, referring to a child  
with juvenile diabetes. "I opposed the California bill; it went too  
far. I don't support cloning. But you cannot look a child in the eye  
when the only chance they have to live is this."

Nancy Reagan and Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Arlen Specter (R- 
Pennsylvania) and Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) are other prominent  
Republicans who back embryonic stem-cell research.

Scientists believe embryonic stem cells could lead to treatments for  
ailments from Alzheimer's disease to spinal cord injuries because the  
cells have the ability to morph into all types of human cells. News  
last week that South Korean researchers had surpassed U.S. research  
efforts by generating 11 colonies of tailor-made stem cells from  
human embryonic clones ignited renewed and passionate debate on the  

During the House debate, opponents said these promises are overblown,  
and presented an alternative bill, which also passed, that would lend  
funds to research on stem cells taken from umbilical cords.  
Researchers say these so-called adult stem cells are less promising  
for many treatments than embryonic stem cells.

The embryonic-stem-cell bill would allow researchers to study embryos  
donated by couples who have received fertility treatments, which  
often produce excess embryos. It would overthrow Bush's August 2001  
executive order, which limits federal funding of embryonic stem-cell  
research to stem-cell colonies already created by that date.

On Tuesday, Bush met with 21 children who had been adopted as  
embryos. The children began their lives as excess embryos at  
fertility clinics, and were carried to term by their adoptive mothers.

"Rather than discard these embryos created during in vitro  
fertilization, or turn them over for research that destroys them,  
these families have chosen a life-affirming alternative," Bush said  
in a statement.

But representatives who support the stem-cell enhancement act argued  
that approximately 400,000 embryos are now languishing in clinics,  
and most would never be implanted in a woman's uterus.

The Senate is expected to take up the issue soon. If SB471 passes,  
the president will be faced with his first veto. The issue of  
embryonic stem-cell research is closely monitored by the religious  
right, and was the subject of Bush's first public address as  
president in August 2001.

"I cannot imagine the first veto of his presidency will be on medical  
research," said Michael Manganiello, senior vice president of  
government relations for the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.  
"The American people are for it, so we'll see."

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