Close Call For NU Research, Reputation; Thanksgiving Reminder: Count Your Blessings

Today another “double feature” column, in which I concentrate on two major subjects.  The first deals with the nationally important stem cell research bill issue with which the University of Nebraska board of regents dealt last Friday. 

The second major topic is a reminder that the week which includes Thanksgiving Day is a good time to count your blessings—a subject to which we should give attention throughout the year but which is too often forgotten in the routine of daily living.

First to the issue of embryonic stem cell research:

Those who believe that a state university’s research should not be limited by objections based in large part on religious beliefs are fortunate that the issue came before the eight-member board of regents in the way that it did. 

A resolution passed several years ago by the board of regents left open the door for university researchers to work with new lines of embryonic stem cell material as such research became approved by—and in large part funded by—the federal government.  The Obama administration has approved such expanded research and such funding.

This meant that if expanded embryonic stem cell research were to be blocked, the initiative—and the votes—had to come from those who believe that utilizing embryonic stem cells for research is the moral and religious equivalent of aborting a fetus developing in the mother’s womb.  Four members of the board of regents made the effort last week but failed to pick up the necessary fifth vote.

When A 4-4 Tie Is A Victory

On the other hand, if a change in university policy had been necessary in order to allow expanded university Medical Center research in response to the new federal policy, pro-expanded research regents would have had to be the ones to pick up the fifth vote.  It was a close call, but the 4-to-4 regents’ stalemate preserved both an enlightened research policy and protected the university’s reputation. 

The issue was significant enough to draw considerable nationwide attention.  Scientists said that if the view of the anti-expanded research regents had prevailed, the University of Nebraska would have been the first public university in the United States to impose tougher research restrictions than those called for by state and federal law.

Nebraskans who disapprove of restrictions on lifesaving research at their state university—restrictions which would damage both research efforts and the university’s reputation—should be grateful to the four regents who rejected the effort by the four other regents to restrict research. 

The four who voted to allow expanded lifesaving research are Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons, Jim McClurg of Lincoln, Kent Schroeder of Kearney and Bob Whitehouse of Papillion. 

McClurg received special pressure from those who would restrict research because he was one of five regents elected with the support of abortion opponents.  But when the issue came before the regents, McClurg said he can make a distinction between abortion and the use of excess fertility clinic embryos. 

Praised by University of Nebraska Medical College Chancellor Dr. Hal Mauer for making a courageous vote Friday, McClurg said the decision was no more difficult for him than for the seven other members of the board.

No Advice On What To Do With Embryos

The regents who tried to restrict expanded research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center:  Dr. Randy Ferlic of Omaha, Tim Clare of Lincoln, Howard Hawks of Omaha and Bob Phares of North Platte.

Interestingly and significantly, it seems to me, opponents of research use of any of the thousands upon thousands of excess embryos kept in frozen storage in fertility clinics around the country—these opponents make absolutely no mention of what they believe the fate of these embryos should be.  They argue that each embryo contains a person with a soul.  But what to do with them?  No answer.

There is simply no prospect that the very great majority of these embryos will ever be implanted in a womb, since they are excess to the needs of the men and women whose sperm and egg were used to create them.

Nor is there ever any acknowledgment by the research opponents that before these excess embryos can be used for research, the owners must give their written approval and must agree that if the research produces results which would involve some monetary return, they will not share in that return.  The documentation must include the fact that the embryos were freely donated and would otherwise be destroyed.

A concluding thought (for now):  Don’t be surprised if the anti-abortion, anti-embryonic stem cell research forces make yet another effort to restrict research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center when the Legislature convenes in January.

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Marian, Of Course, Still No. 1 Blessing

Turning to some Thanksgiving season commentary, let me start with the condensed version of a column which I wrote 11 years ago—a column which generated the most reaction from readers of anything I have written in more than 17 years of column writing—favorable reaction, I hasten to add.

I wrote in November, 1998:               

“As I count the blessings that are special to me this Thanksgiving season, it’s not hard to start my list:  Her name is Marian, and she has blessed my life these past 48 years.

“Today, her right arm suspended in a pillow-like sling following her eighth major orthopedic surgical procedure (she has had several more in the past 11 years), she continues to radiate that warmth of personality and concern for others (thankfully including me!) that makes her such a remarkable person.

“Marian’s reaction to her long siege of surgery tells a good deal about the upbeat way she approaches life.  I’ve never once heard her complain.  Her attitude is consistently positive, grateful for the fact that her serious involvement with osteoarthritis can be surgically addressed.

“She has become something of a counselor to acquaintances with joint problems.  Her consistent advice, given diplomatically but clearly, is to stop limping painfully around and consult a doctor about the possibility of surgical relief.

“Marian’s resilience in the face of surgical adversity is noteworthy.  She rebounds quickly, as evidenced by the fact that on her second day home after three recent days in the hospital following rotator cuff surgery, her right arm in a sling, she served me left-hand-scrambled eggs for breakfast while trying to take charge of the allocation of our tickets for the Colorado-Nebraska football game.

“(I know there are readers out there who have demonstrated—or who have loved ones who have demonstrated—courage and grace in the face of physical adversity over a period of years.  In telling Marian’s story, I would hope to indicate my admiration for all those individuals whose stories would make compelling reading if I were in a position to report them.)

“Marian’s friends and I could cite countless examples of her genuine interest in other people, their lives and their problems.  A typical example:

“Late one evening I heard Marian on the phone discussing an airline ticket reservation with a United Airlines employee in Denver.  It seemed to me the conversation was taking longer than should be necessary to make a reservation.  I figured out what had happened when I heard Marian say something like: 

“’Well, it’s certainly been nice taking with you.  And I hope your mother gets to feeling better real soon.’

“Marian’s memory for names and dates—especially people-related dates like birthdays—continues to astound me after all these years.  I can walk into a cocktail party and work hard to remember the names of two or three people I’ve met, while Marian can give you the name of everyone she’s met, where everyone is from and, how many children they have.

“As for her memory of birth dates, a recent example:  I was on a mid-November golfing trip with the Fairfield brothers, Terry, president of the University of Nebraska Foundation, and Bill, chief executive officer of Inacom.  Marian said to be sure to wish the Fairfields a happy birthday.  She had remembered that they were born, two years apart, on the same day of the year, November 30.  (I’ll leave it to Bill or Terry to tell you which is the older.)

“It is this genuine interest in others that, I believe, has led Marian to work so hard on behalf of so many civic causes dedicated to helping others—whether they be students at the University of Nebraska (Marian was the first woman and first non-Lincolnite to serve as chairman of the University of Nebraska Foundation) or recipients of the various services the American Red Cross or United Way of the Midlands provide to people in need.”

I concluded that column 11 years ago with these words:  “I should give credit to the late Jim Murray, superb sports columnist of the Los Angeles times, and to the editors of the Times for prompting me to write today’s column.  After Murray’s recent death, the Times republished several of his most memorable columns.  One was a very moving tribute to his wife, written shortly after her death.  The column ended with the thought of what Murray had intended to tell his wife on the 39th wedding anniversary, which they never reached.  Murray wrote:

“’I had my speech all ready.  I was going to look into her brown eyes and tell her something I should have long ago. I was going to tell her, ‘It was a privilege just to have known you.’  I never got to say it.’”

* * *

Living In Nebraska, USA, A Great Blessing

So much for what I wrote 11 years ago.  Marian is, of course, still my greatest blessing, but if I were to list all the other blessings for which I am grateful this Thanksgiving season and every other day of the year, the list (especially the friendships) would be a very long one indeed. 

So I’ll concentrate on a few of the most important, such as the privilege of living in Nebraska, in the United States of America, where I started adult life with limited financial resources but, very importantly, with an excellent education in Florence Grade School and Omaha North High School and the University of Nebraska. 

A blessing also was the opportunity to build a career as a newspaper reporter and subsequently publisher—a career which provided the opportunity for public service through the printed page and civic assignments as well as the resources to try to be of help to others. 

In the category of civic assignments and efforts to be of help to be of others, I am thankful for the opportunities to work with Marian in joint chairmanships and to cheer her on as she took on so many leadership roles, including that of being the first woman to head the Heartland Chapter of the American Red Cross, from which she went on to become vice chairman of the board of governors of the American Red Cross.

Speaking of the Red Cross, Marian received a gift and an accompanying note when she attended her umpteenth annual meeting of the Midlands Chapter this month.  The note said, “We love you!” and credited her with being an inspiration to all those involved in the chapter’s work.  Marian’s comment to me:  “They’re all doing a great job.”

Marian said she didn’t think I should refer to the note.  But I told her that I am exercising freedom of the press and I think that it’s appropriate and an indication that a good many other people share my feeling that association with Marian is a blessing.

Certainly among the blessings which Marian and I share year round and are appropriately included in a Thanksgiving season blessings recital are our children and grandchildren:  Son David and his wife, the former Leslie Roe of Bennington, and their children Lindsey, Rob and Katie.  And daughter Nancy, who lives in Denver, with children Jack, James and Grant.

Enough about my special blessings. Please remember my advice to count yours, and not just during Thanksgiving week.

* * *

A Lighter Touch To Finish

I’ll finish today with the same lighter touch with which, 11 years ago, I ended my Thanksgiving-season “Wife Tops Lists of Life’s Greatest Blessings” column: 

Marian’s favorite among the get-well messages that came her way this past week was a card with a cover page which advised: “‘Sit back, relax, let people wait on you.”

Turn the page and you read:  “In other words, act like a man.”

And an updated lighter-touch ending:

I overheard Marian talking to someone who was congratulating her for her progress and recovery from the recent amputation of an arthritic toe.  Marian said:  “I now have nine toes.  I’m thinking of asking for a price reduction next time I have a pedicure.”

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