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If Stem Cells Could Talk...  
Imagine what theyíd say. A whimsical look at a hot political issue  
   

NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE
 
    Aug. 6ó  Back in 1960, scientists discovered a man who had lived to the age of 2000. With America riveted by the news, the 2000-year-old man (who may or may not have been Mel Brooks) agreed to speak to a reporter (who happened to sound a lot like Carl Reiner). The resulting interview provided us with a rare chance to view our age from the perspective of someone who had, literally, seen it all.  

     
     
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  WITH THE CURRENT debate raging over whether the federal government should finance research into stem cells, I felt I lacked that very same perspective about what America should do. Fortunately, a fertility clinic whose name I have agreed to conceal has granted me an exclusive interview with someone who can provide that perspective.
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        Ladies and gentleman, I offer you an interview with: The One-Two-Thousandths-of-a-Year-Old Man. (Please try to read the following with a very strong Mel Brooks accent. Will it help? Who knows, but like chicken soup, it couldnít hoit.)
       
       REPORTER: Iím very happy that weíre having this chance to talk. From what I hear, you donít give interviews too often.
       1/2000th MAN: Why should I give interviews? Iím a stem cell! I havenít even figured out what I am yet! I could become brain cells, which would make my mother very proud, or I could become those really ugly cells between your toes, which would make her scream and yell about all the sacrifices she made so that I could be somebody. Oy, do I need this?
       
       REPORTER: Why do you think so many Americans are interested in stem cells?
       1/2000th MAN: What, they shouldnít be interested? Of course theyíre interested in stem cells. Without us, there wouldnít even be cells. Weíre the Renaissance men of cells. Weíre like having Leonardo da Vinci in your arm. Some of us are going to go on to paint the Mona Lisa, others are going to invent really bizarre flying machines. The point is, take a few thousand of us, and itís 16th-century Florence all over again, but this time, with better plumbing.
       
       REPORTER: What do you think of the current debate? Do you think the federal government should fund the research?
       1/2000th MAN: Of course the government should fund the research. Stem cells like me will some day be able to cure great diseases, like Alzheimerís, Parkinsonís and Lou Gehrigís disease. Iím convinced, that if all goes well, we might even be able to cure Tom DeLayís Disease.
       
Gersh on Al Gore's Beard

       REPORTER: Tom DeLayís Disease? I hadnít heard of that one.
       1/2000th MAN: Thatís the disease which breaks down the cells of your brain and replaces them, one by one, with those of a 13th-century bishop. Itís really quite horrifying to watchóespecially since the disease ravishes the victimís mind, yet does nothing to alter the victimís hair.
       
       REPORTER: But certainly you would agree with people like DeLay who say that youíre a living being that should not be killed, even to prevent diseases that kill people?
       1/2000th MAN: Iím not a living being! Iím a stem cell! I would say I was the boil on the butt of mankind, but Iím not even a boil yet! A boil is millions of cells! Iím not even one cell!
       
       REPORTER: But if left alone, you could develop into a human child.
       1/2000th MAN: Let me tell you, Iím not developing into anything anytime soon, except a really cold bunch of inanimate pre-cells. When you called me to set up this interview, I was sitting around in a vat of liquid nitrogen. Have you ever sat around in liquid nitrogen all day? Itís not fun. I would say I was freezing my kishkas off, but I donít even have kishkas yet because, as Iíve been trying to tell you, Iím just a stem cell!
       
       REPORTER: The presidentís spokesman said over the weekend that a decision was coming soon. After listening to all sides of the issue, the spokesman said, President Bush would ďstop, ponder, think and then announceĒ the decision.
       1/2000th MAN: I know, isnít it great to again have a president who needs to stop before pondering? I thought Gerald Ford was the only man who couldnít walk and ponder at the same time (now there was a guy who was a few stem cells shortof an organ system). I mean, how long does the president need to deliberate? For Godís sake, Rome couldíve been builtóby stem cells, no lessóin the time itís taken Dick Cheney to make this decision. That man is clearly overworked.
       
       REPORTER: Some members of Congress think that scientists should be allowed to experiment only on adult stem cells, which are taken from bone marrow. What do you think?
       1/2000th MAN: Who cares what I think? Iím a stem cell. And who cares what Congressmen think? They know less about science than I do! Letting Congress make decisions about science is like letting Hannibal Lecter cater a bar-mitzvah. (I know, and such small portions!) The bottom line is that the scientists who work with me tell me that adult stem cells arenít as good as I am. Itís like anything else: When stem cells get old, they leave home, they never call. Who needs these no-good adult stem cells?
       
       REPORTER: Did you see that President Bush consulted with the Pope about you?

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       1/2000th MAN: Yes, itís becoming quite a religious issue. Funny, but while weíre turning this into a religious issue, the Israelis are busy using stem cells to make insulin and create new heart tissue. Did I miss something, or isnít Israel the place where religion BEGAN? If they donít have a problem with stem cells, why should we? I also heard that if Bush allows federal funding, he could wind up alienating Americaís 40 million Catholics. Has anyone bothered to ask the Catholics who happen to have Alzheimerís or Parkinsonís?
       
       REPORTER: An Indiana lawmaker said that research into stem cells or human cloning ďwill most certainly lead to the creation of a sub-class of human life solely for the purpose of experimentation and destruction.Ē
       1/2000th MAN: Yes, I saw that movie. It was really good, especially when the sub-human class stormed the White House and injected the President with stem cells.
       
       REPORTER: No, I think he was serious.
       1/2000th MAN: So was I. What a movie that was. I think it starred Kevin Costner as a sub-human and Ronald Reagan as the Alzheimerís-stricken president.
       
       REPORTER: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
       1/2000th MAN: It was nothing, really. I needed a break anyway from figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. Iíve got it narrowed down to tongue cells (what can I say, Iím a sucker for brisket?) or red blood cells (itís very easy work and you get great retirement benefits). I enjoyed talking with you. You seem like a nice guy. If you ever come down with something incurable, look me up. Iíll bet me and the boys could whip something up in no time.
       

Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post and the author of ďHAIR! Mankindís Historic Quest to End BaldnessĒ (Random House, March 2001). His e-mail address is gershny@yahoo.com.
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