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A letter from an alumnus about stem-cell research

January 7, 2002

With respect to religion, mankind may be divided into two broad groups: those who are religious and the irreligious. In respect to the former, the Pontiff, with a slight reduction in rank, may be considered a cardinal example. However, not even he can tell us in all truth that there is a God. His religion has given him the "gift of faith." He believes there is a God, but he cannot tell us for sure, nor can anyone else.

When a religious person states, "There is a God," "He is my God," and "He has sent me here to tell you what you must and must not do," it is at this point that religion begins its free-fall into the wastebasket of absurdity. Certain it is that every dogma, every rule and regulation of every sect since the beginning of time has come directly from the mind or imagination of mankind, and then is attributed to some God to give it a little authority. No one knows for sure that there is a God, and no one knows for sure when life begins. There are those in the Congress and elsewhere who are eager to set a time, but the problem is, they do not know; nor does anyone else. Yet, on the basis of their "moral," "ethical," or "religious" prejudices, they are willing to pass a law restricting unfettered stem-cell research.

As to the irreligious group, these may be further divided into the atheists, who don’t believe in God at all. They are, therefore, not eager to explain "His" will to us. Another subdivision in this group is the fellow who has no interest in God or religion of any kind, probably the happiest of men. And, finally, there is the agnostic, "I doubt the existence of God, but maybe I’m wrong." The corollary to this attitude would certainly be, "I’ll wait and see, if it takes a year, a thousand years, or a million years." It is in this latter group that I find myself, and I suspect a rather large and growing population. Patient ignorance seems the most reasonable course when there is no certainty.

We seem to be on the verge of a biological explosion based upon stem-cell research, and particularly unrestricted stem cell research, a form of investigation likely to revolutionize medicine as we know it. It appears that stem cell research may offer great benefit to the therapy of some of our most devastating, disabling, and degenerative diseases.

It is time for the Congress to return to managing the war and attempting to improve the economy, the two major functions with which our government is charged in our Constitution.

It is time for the public to become informed about stem-cell research through the schools and the public media.

It is time for those who would curtail stem-cell research to demonstrate how it can harm us.

It is time for those engaged in stem cell research to explain how it may benefit us.

Then, after a period of learning, during which time, hopefully, unabridged stem cell research would continue and, if it seems necessary, the issue might best be submitted to a plebiscite. It is far too important to be bogged down in the quagmire of political obfuscation.

William W. Ashley ’43
Eureka, Calif.

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