Friday, October 29, 2004

Facts are still stupid things

The biggest problem with President Bush's position on stem cell research is not his conviction that using embryonic stem cells for medical research is unethical or immoral. It's that he has been dishonest about the compromise he struck, which allowed for federal funding on research for existing stem cell lines only. At the time, it seemed like an extremely thoughtful solution that tried to balance the potential of stem cells to cure disease versus the serious moral objections that many Americans have to this kind of research.

But while the president trumpets this policy in the face of criticism that he is standing in the way life-saving medical research, scientists continue to raise questions over the viability of the eligible stem cell lines:

All of the human embryonic stem cells available to federally funded scientists under President Bush's three-year-old research policy share a previously unrecognized trait that fosters rejection by the immune systems, diminishing their potential as medical treatments, new research indicates.

A second study has concluded that at least a quarter of the Bush-approved cell colonies are so difficult to keep alive they have little potential even as research tools.

The president is entitled to believe that stem cell research is immoral. But he can't keep trying to have it both ways.


Blogger bkopec said...

The most glaring inconsistency in his stem cell policy is that he allows the destruction of embryos for fertilization purposes. Why hasn't anyone raised this issue?

Here's the kicker...I haven't heard anyone advocate creating embryos SPECIFICALLY for the purpose of creating additional stem cell lines. Rather, scientists advocate using left over embryos from fertilization procedures.

So it's ok to create them to be destroyed, but it's not ok to use existing ones that will be discarded anyway??

3:34 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Unfortunately, only a few stories have mentioned that fact, and I seem to recall Kerry mentioned it only in passing during the debate. That really is the point that supporters of this research need to drive home.

5:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone misses the point here. It's not that Bush has "banned" stem cell research. Rather, he has put strict rules on the use of federal dollars on it. By doing this he was not simply striking a "moral" compromise, but a political one. While about half of this very divided country opposes abortion on demand, a much clearer majority agrees that federal taxpayer money shouldn't be spent on abortions. Bush faces the same issue: People might agree to choice, but not about taxpayer funding of it; ditto for stem cell research.

There are NO rules whatsoever on private dollars flowing to stem cell research; no rules on individual states or the reserach universities therein funding stem cell research; there is no ban on John F. Kerry writing a check to pay for it, too. Even Congress could override the administration's executive decision and force federal funding of it (something legislators won't do).

So, why is Bush the maligned one of this? He's actually continuing a long line of bipartisan agreement on federally funded abortions (dating back to Reagan)and extending it to stem cell research. It's a political compromise, something most of the red staters can live with and enough for the blue staters to hang on to.

One problem, J, is this notion in America today that no one can compromise on these issues. Have we become so diffident that we can't try to understand how red state people of faith might feel about having their tax dollars spent on this research?

10:17 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I sometimes wonder if you actually read what I write. Bush has been defending his policy, which allowed federal dollars to be used for research on the existing stem cell lines. This policy was not just a compromise aimed to satisfy both proponents of the research and die-hard opponents, but those who, like the president I suspect, are conflicted over whether the potential benefits outweigh whatever moral problems the research poses. It was, I believed at the time and as I said in my post, a thoughtful compromise.

But it was a compromise based on the assumption, or at least on the public belief, that those stem cell lines would be useful for research. We now know that might not be the case. All I'm asking is for the president to be honest about it, just like critics of John Kerry rightly call on him to stop exaggerating the potential benefits of stem cell research.

2:57 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think you don't read what you write. I began by challenging your assumptions on his "compromise." You are looking at the pragmatism of the research itself, the value of the stem cell lines sui generis. If the lines, themselves, are not of value, then federal prescriptions on their use are irrelevant.

I disagree with that very assumption. I see only the policy debate as it was filtered through politics, which I guarantee you is how Bush saw it, and which doesn't change one iota what federal policy will be under Bush even if what you say is true (which isn't proven either).

For Stem Cell Research ("SCR" as it's called on the Hill, or "sucker," as it's pronounced for obvious relish), Bush found a bipartisan compromise that's as old as the Reagan abortion doctrine.

Rather than being an "extremely thoughtful solution," it didn't, in the end, require much thought at all. Basically, Bush converted the Reagan post-Roe abortion policy (agreed to by GHW Bush and Clinton) to stem cell research.

The only novelty, for W, was to mush the choice issue to a research plank.

What also went unsaid is the science behind the science. There is a great deal of dispute within the life sciences over whether fetal stem cells will yield the benefits Kerry seems to believe they promise. No one wants to mention the science, of course, because that makes for tricky political discourse. One isn't likely to find either candidate actually explaining the limitations of the policy choices.

Another problem I have with a Pg. 3 WAPO story is the unqualified boosterism for the pronouncements you take for granted. Peer review has not taken place, nor has the underlying assumptions or tested results occured.

While I give the researchers at Salk, et al, all the respect they deserve, the research isn't there yet to discount the pragmatic nature of the lines, nor have they resolved ways around the dilemma mentioned.

That said, the other nifty thing is that simply because NIH funding isn't forthcoming doesn't mean that research can't take place. There are a number of funding mechanisms open to these researchers short of sucking of the federal tit: Private capital, nonprofits, even other states or nations.

I know you don't much care for what Evangelicals and Catholics believe about morality, but maybe they deserve to be heard from time to time on how their money is spent? Reagan decreed that we wouldn't use their hard-earned money to subsidize abortions on demand. Bush agreed that medical research on fetal stem cells can continue, but not without restrictions on federal funding.

You might think people of faith are boobs. Because I live in a democracy, and I care what they think about how their money is spent, I don't mind throwing them some bones.

10:43 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I don't recall disparaging people of faith, merely criticizing some of the public policy goals that the leaders of some religious denominations and movements have advocated. If you're considering a career as a mind-reader, I wouldn't give up your day job.

11:21 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't say you aren't "disparaging people of faith" when you're busy "merely criticizing some of the public policy goals that the leaders of some religious denominations and movements have advocated."

It doesn't take a mind-reader to divine that the hopes (see public policy goals) of religious people are tied, voila, to the tenets of their faith(s).

It becomes nettlesome to say you respect them (blah, blah, blah), but you don't respect their goals, dreams, hopes, etc., of the public square.

I, personally, don't like a lot of the public policy goals of the Christian Right, but I very much respect these goals because I take on faith that they mean what they say.

So, I'm willing to give up on federal funding of SCR, or "sucker," because it is so odious to them. Why should I compel a good proportion of Americans to pay for something they hate as a core of their faith?

It's not a Constitutional or national defense issue, which most people would agree are sacrosanct. This isn't about forcing our kids to pray to their version of God in school or spending tax money to prop up the 700 Club.

So, let SCR go! Don't federally fund abortions on demand! States with large Catholic, Buddhist and Quaker populations should be allowed to say they don't want the death penalty (see Hawaii)!

I'm not going to shove abortions or SCR down the throats of the Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, etc., just because I can.

Bush's compromise doesn't bother me. I don't really see why it bothers you.

If you want, donate to a nonprofit (see CMU) that likely is investigating SCR applications to the health field. Bush and his minion Ashcroft won't stop you!

7:14 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get in early, J! Buy now!

7:34 PM


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