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An Open Letter to Nancy Reagan

One voice advocating stem cell research responsibly.

by Kathy R. Haag
June 18, 2004

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Dear Nancy:
I, along with the rest of our nation - love, respect and admire you for many reasons. First - for being what my mother calls a "lady". When my mother utters that word, it speaks volumes. It speaks of grace, dignity, character and living one's life all the time as if everyone were always watching, even when no one is looking. Margaret Thatcher once said, "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people that you are, you aren't." And you, Mrs. Reagan, are a lady, in the truest sense of the word.
All Americans admire your fierce, endless, faithful, loyalty to the man whom you loved. We admire his good sense to listen to the one who cared about him the most. We admired the two of you as individuals; and as a team.
Mrs. Reagan, we admired your taste and understanding of what our nation needed after the death of our former President. We thank you for the opportunity to say our good-byes and honor the man that we loved too. We felt that we had lost a family member who led this nation the same way that a strong father leads his family.
This leadership began immediately after the first inauguration, which had been carried out while Americans were held hostage in Iran. When one of our Americans is a hostage, then all of our nation is held hostage. President Reagan understood the sacredness of freedom and was committed to support it all over the world. However, before he could help to free a member of any other nation, our own had to be freed. Within 30 minutes of his presidency, this goal was accomplished. Then he moved on to help to build the bridge of freedom to the rest of the world.
I remember the excitement when I heard MY President, say "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Then, months later, I got chill bumps watching the wall come down. I had tears in my eyes, understanding that history of an unbelievable magnitude was occurring in front of all of our eyes and realizing that there would be people in my generation who would never understand the significance of that moment because we have never known the kind of tyranny and oppression that occurs daily worldwide. We are the lucky ones. We have always been free.
He moved on to help to liberate the people in Grenada after they asked for our help.
I remember him bombing the palace of the Libyan leader Khadafi. After that, Mr. Khadafi was subdued - and I was thankful.
I remember pride in the fact that he was not one to push around. He believed in walking softly but carrying a big stick.
And I remember our President also knew when he had to act as a father figure to a nation in mourning. Our entire country wept and grieved together over the Space Shuttle disaster. He led us in our grief, hugged family members, and personally grieved with them - and he was sincere in his grief.
And we admired you both for taking a stance on difficult positions and not being afraid to stand strong on those positions even when it was not the most popular thing to do. Your husband said, "We didn't discover our values in a poll taken a week before the convention".
One of these difficult positions was the stance of President Reagan on the abortion issue. He and you, as I understood it were against abortion. You stood strong to that position in the face of protests, and disagreements from all directions, including within your own family. You and the President knew right from wrong and you made that clear. He said, "Abortion is advocated only by persons who have themselves been born."
I, and many other Americans supported your position. The pro-abortion camp calls themselves pro-choice. They say that they believe in the right to a woman being able to choose what she does with her body. I agree that every woman should and does have that right. The problem is that I disagree with their timing. I believe that the time to choose what to do with your body is before sex that results in conception. When deciding whether or not to engage in sex is the right time for a woman to make the choice of what to do with her body ...not after the baby has been conceived. After conception of a new life, the time of choice for what a woman should do with her fetus, which they consider to be a part of their body, should be gone.
But life has a way of putting us in positions that we had never anticipated. And it is from these bad positions, that growth occurs. And growth is painful. We are faced to look at issues from a new perspective and this is when we find out where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. We find out how we feel when this issue becomes personal. And sometimes feel forced to understand that maybe we were wrong. And sometimes we have to face the sad fact that we were right but that being right does not come without a price.
When faced with the pain of an issue that faces a loved one, we begin to do all that we can to help them. We try to help them get cured. We try to help them conquer the challenge, whatever it takes. And then one day we find out that there isn't a cure and we can't fix the problem. All we can do is to stand by and try to help ease the burden and pain and suffering on them as much as possible. And the realization that there is nothing that can be done to fix a problem for someone else after a tremendous effort results in a kind of death in itself: the death of an effective way to solve problems. No one can know the pain unless they have walked in these shoes. It is personal, heart-wrenching pain. But... for those of us who are NOT quitters and who WILL NOT sit idly by and give up, we take on a different course. We turn to activism of some form...hopefully in a positive, constructive way.
And that, my heroine, is what you have done. Even before the final demise of your husband, you stood up and publicly requested that Mr. Bush increase government funding to expand embryonic stem cell research to help to cure the afflicted...The ones who, like your husband have Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and spinal injuries, just to name a few. And in their love and respect for you and your husband, many congressmen have jumped in and are trying to lobby the President to do the same.  What you did took courage. You stood up and crossed party lines, publicly disagreeing with a sitting Republican President to make your voice heard. You did it with a very soft voice and a very personal cause. Nobody can help but to admire this.
A Soviet leader once said about Margaret Thatcher, your friend and your husband's ideological soul mate, "She is an lady made of iron." Upon hearing this quote, Margaret Thatcher replied,” He was right!" Well, Mrs. Reagan, please excuse my southern slang, but Margaret Thatcher ain't got nothin' on you! You too, are a lady made of iron, and you are still a lady.

But my President, Mr. George Bush, believes in limited government funding on stem cell research because of the source of the stem cells to be used: from aborted fetal tissue and from frozen embryos. When the frozen embryos are used, the taking of the stem cells from the embryos will result in the destruction of the embryo. This is a form of abortion. There are the arguments that many of these embryos would have been aborted through destruction over a period of years anyway. This probably is true. There are the arguments that a woman who is going to have an abortion will have one anyway. That no one will decide to have an abortion for stem cell research purposes but for purely private reasons and there is no need in this going for waste. As long as these very terrible things are going to happen anyway, let the tragedy be turned into something that will save a life that is already living and will soon be suffering. But that would be using government funds to help research using aborted fetuses. And George Bush has a conscience that believes in the same sacredness of life that you and Mr. Reagan used to say that you believed in too.
I know that you still believe in the sacredness of life. I think that you are still against abortion. Are you? And I believe that when President Reagan was President, if given the same issue to decide, would have decided the same exact way that Mr. President George W. Bush has. And I believe that you would have supported him staunchly. But that was before it became painfully personal for you.
I had a Grandfather who was stricken and died from Parkinson's disease. I had to watch his deterioration advance rapidly until he, too, got to the point that no one could reach him. I can tell stories, not too different from those stories told by your children. One day, when spoon-feeding him rice pudding, he looked at the nurse, who cared for him in his house and said about me, "I don't know who this girl is, but she sure is sweet". That was a sweet moment for me. I remember in the same visit when he was shuffling through the kitchen, he looked at me and had a glimmer in his eye and said, "Hi, Hon!” In addition, I was tickled because, for that brief moment, I knew he recognized me. And that was special. That was to be the last time that he recognized me. His condition continued to deteriorate to a place where we could no longer reach him, just as you described your husband. I wonder at times if they were in the same place. Then, my wonderful grandfather died. And I love him and still miss him to this day.
This issue is personally painful for me as well. But I ask you to not pressure Bush and the Congress to drop their current policy completely. There are 2 other sources for stem cells: One is from the umbilical cord blood for a healthy newborn baby and the other is from regular fat cells in the body of everyone. I personally, would like to donate all of those that I can. Do you know of a number that I can call?
Please ask our leaders to increase funding for stem cell research on stem cells emanating from the cord blood of newborns and from normal fat cells. And I think that this is a compromise that we can all champion without an attack on our conscience.
Our leaders are anxious to help with this cause out of love for their former President and his family. The timing is right for positive change. But we must realize that this must be done the right way, not with an knee-jerk emotional reaction thinking that had we done this sooner, Mr. Reagan would still be with us. His quality of life would probably have been much better. But the truth is that we are all mortal and 93 years of life is not bad at all.

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