Medicine, Progress, Politics and HIV

An incredible, amazing headline was posted on CurrentTV’s website this morning:

San Francisco Man First Person Ever To Be Cured Of AIDS

In essence, a bone marrow transplant from a man with an incredibly rare immunity to HIV was able to, apparently, cure another man’s HIV. This is the kind of “miracle of science” we’ve become all too used to. We will do well to reflect on where these incredible advances come from.

This incredible breakthrough is the direct result of progressive perspectives and policies, and flies in the face of conservative opposition and backwardness. At each step of the way towards this advancement, progressive ideas made things possible, even as conservative voices decried the emergence of hope or acknowledgement of human need.

First off, HIV is a problem that originally manifested in the public imagination as “the gay cancer.” As a result, it was dismissed and ignored for far, far too long. Indeed, even today there are advocates opposed to HIV research on the basis of their anti-equality agenda. Had the Republicans been in charge of the House in the 1980s, you can bet that AIDS would be a far greater epidemic today than it already is.

Second, the procedure that yielded this miracle, a bone marrow transplant, is the direct result of generations of applied science, pushing the cutting edge of medical knowledge. Modern Republicans are more interested in cutting off the advance of medical knowledge. Indeed, in Arizona, Republican policies directly led to the death of a patient who was denied a bone marrow transplant. Throughout history, conservatives have stood in the path of science and medical progress.

Finally, the future applicability of this cure could be dependent on the ability to clone and grow the bone marrow of those incredibly unique individuals with HIV immunity. It is just that kind of medicine that stem cell research enables. Again, Republicans for reasons of irrationality, oppose this kind of essential medical research, and would stand in the way of research on a promising treatment option – an option that has been shown to possibly cure the plague of my generation’s mindset – HIV.

Reflecting on this headline, I could not help but think of my extremely conservative grandmother, who tells me the world is an awful place and nothing good ever happens whenever I talk with her on the phone. This all too often seems true of Republican policies and opinions. Their policies are about what we can’t do, what we mustn’t do, what we should forbid. Even their budget proposal reflects this dark pessimism. As President Obama observed:

It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them. Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America—the greatest nation on Earth—can’t afford any of this.

It is my opinion, and my experience, that things to get better, over time, with the work and energy of inspired people, that leads me to progressive politics. My grandmother, who claims the world is an awful place, nearly died of diptheria when she was a child. Diptheria is something I was inoculated against when I was a baby. I remember, clearly, my week home itchy and ill, with the chicken pox. Decades later, the virus returned as shingles. This is something my children will not have to experience, thanks to a vaccination against chicken pox. These are tangible, proven examples of the world actually getting better for everyone, thanks to open minds, research and generous public support for medical science. That is progress, made manifest in our lives.

And it is the result of Democratic policies and progressive principles. Period.

Though I have no doubt that in fifty years, conservative politicians will happily take advantage of stem cell transplantation procedures to cure their ills, even while decrying the immorality of the medical advances of their day. After all, it was the ministers and conservatives who led the charge against the inoculations of the 19th century.

I guess it’s a good thing they were wrong.

(Crossposted from Leesburg Tomorrow.)

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