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November 11, 2006

Is Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research in the Constitution?

In this election, liberals exploited stem cell research the way conservatives exploit gay marriage amendments. It’s a way to rouse the base and motivate them to come out and vote. This was especially true in Missouri, where Parkison’s victim and stem cell activist Michael J. Fox made a commercial that drew taunts from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

Regardless of how one feels about the ethics of stem cell research, we believe that the federal government shouldn’t fund this type of research – or any research – for reasons as plain as the Constitution.

Ilana Mercer exlains it well. She came to America by way of South Africa, Israel, and Canada, but she appreciates the Constitution more than many people born here. In her latest column, Ms. Mercer places stem cell research in its proper context

Aping Fox’s Parkinson’s-induced spasms, Limbaugh told listeners: “He is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He’s moving all around and shaking and it’s purely an act.” Rather than lampoon an-obviously afflicted human being, someone with a head and a heart would have stuck to the issue.

And the issue is this: The founders bequeathed a central government of delegated and enumerated powers. Intellectual property laws are the only constitutional means at Congress’s disposal with which to “promote the Progress of Science.” (About their merit Thomas Jefferson, himself an inventor, was unconvinced.) The Constitution gives Congress only 18 specific legislative powers. Research and development spending is nowhere among them.

Neither are Social Security . . . Medicare, Medicaid, and the elaborate public works sprung from the General Welfare and Interstate Commerce Clauses—you name it, it’s likely unconstitutional. There is simply no warrant in the Constitution for most of what the Federal Frankenstein does.

Some fear that there would be no stem cell research if the feds didn’t fund it. Not true. According to Ms. Mercer,

Implied, moreover, in Democratic fits over stem-cell research is that if the House didn’t mulct taxpayers of money for research and development, there’d be no R&D. That’s absurd—and is contradicted by the government itself. An un-updated report issued by the United States Department of Health & Human Services states that, “Based on 2002 data, one study reports that private sector research and development in stem cells was being conducted by approximately 1000 scientists in over 30 firms. Aggregate spending was estimated at $208 million. Geron Corporation alone reported that it spent more than $70 million on stem cell research by September 2003.”

“In the Stem Cell Business News Guide to Stem Cell Companies (Feb 2003),” writes the HHS, “61 U.S. and international companies are listed as pursuing some form of research or therapeutic product development involving stem cells. For example, Geron Corp. has announced plans to seek FDA approval to pursue human trials.”

What do you know? The private sector has been beavering away for some time now, exploring the promise—or lack thereof—of embryonic stem cells.

Limbaugh needed only to remind Fox (and his own soon-to-be-dethroned party) of a thing called the Constitution. He needed to berate Fox not for his spasticity, but for using his celebrity to petition Congress for money not his. Limbaugh ought to have suggested Fox refrain from pickpocketing the taxpayer, and raise money for private research among his stinking rich pals.

This is the irony of government. Some people say that if enough people want something, such as funding stem cell research, that the government should provide it. They think that’s what democracy is all about. But the real democracy is in the market; if people really want something and will pay for it, the market will provide it. Government spending isn’t even unnecessary.

The market provides Al what Al is willing to pay for, and provides Brad what Brad is willing to pay for. Government, on the other hand, forces Al to pay for what Brad wants. This is one of the reasons we must Downsize DC.

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