The reason that the ALS Society of Canada, and other like-minded organizations, want the government to approve Bill C-13 is so that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research will fund pharmaceutical companies to do such research on human embryos using taxpayers’ money. These pharmaceutical companies are eager for taxpayer dollars, too. But the fact that they are eager for government money highlights the weakness in their argument – if cures and therapies were imminent, venture capital would flock to pharmaceutical companies, where it would be richly rewarded. But as Scott Gottlieb wrote in the American Spectator in 2001, investors are not putting money into embryonic stem cell research because claims about their promise have been wildly exaggerated.

Gottlieb wrote that the venture capital market (investors) is “voting with its dollars for adult stem-cell research,” because that is where the treatments are. Kevin Fitzgerald, an assistant professor of medicine at Loyola University Medical Centre, said, “If you look at some of the medical and scientific indications, adult stem cells are much closer to therapeutic applications; embryonic stem cells have a variety of obstacles that need to be overcome.” The obstacles include rejection by patients’ immune systems and the uncontrollable flexibility of embryonic stem cells, which differentiate into various tissue, sometimes including undesirable ones, such as teratomas tumours or tissue inappropriate to the treatment. (Stem cells from aborted babies injected into patients’ brain during one trial transformed into skin and bone cells, with horrifying results).

Gottlieb noted that even with the pro-embryonic stem cell hype, companies doing adult stem cell research attract more investment dollars than those that use human embryos. Gottlieb said the reason for this is that private investors are “typically more adept at judging new technologies than government bureaucrats … When two similar technologies exist, this kind of uneven investment flow is usually a proxy for scientific promise.”

That is not to reduce the debate about stem cells to dollars and cents. Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Frank Young said, “If there’s a major ethical problem with embryonic stem cells, we will probably see the return on these ventures to be much lower.”