Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Dispiriting Easter Egg Hunt

To those who understand that private money has always been free to investigate the potential of embryonic stem cells, that so far that area of research has been a dry hole, and that technology has already found ways to bypass any advantages gained by experimentation on embryonic cells – this piece may not hold any surprises. We ought to understand, though, the ‘slippery slope’ possibilities of this situation. Of course, some of my liberal friends often ‘tut, tut’ any ‘slippery slope’ arguments. They “forget” that the 1973 federal approval of abortions in the first trimester has brought us to a situation where babies who survive abortions in the 9th month are legally killed. I don’t think, in 1973, that anyone contemplated that. This purely political decision by Obama will inevitably lead to pregnancies and abortions by desperate women trying to earn some money.

Obama has too many eggs in his basket

By Kathleen Parker Mar. 11, 2009 FresnoBee

WASHINGTON -- As he lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research Monday, President Barack Obama proclaimed that scientific decisions now will be made "on facts, not ideology."

This sounds good, but what if there were other nonideological facts that Obama seems to be ignoring? One fact is that since Obama began running for president, researchers have made amazing strides in alternative stem cell research.

Science and ethics finally fell in love, in other words, and Obama seems to have fallen asleep during the kiss. Either that, or he decided that keeping an old political promise was more important than acknowledging new developments. In the process, he missed an opportunity to prove that he is pro-science but also sensitive to the concerns of taxpayers who don't want to pay for research that requires embryo destruction.

Unfortunately, the stem cell debate has been characterized as a conflict between science and religious "kooks." In choosing sides, it is, indeed, easier to imagine lunch with a researcher who wants to resurrect Christopher Reeve (whom Obama couldn't resist mentioning) and make him walk again, than with the corner protester holding a fetus in a jar.

Moreover, as Obama said, the majority of Americans have reached a consensus that we should pursue this research. Polling confirms as much, but most Americans, including most journalists and politicians, aren't fluent in stem cell research. It's complicated.

If people "know" anything, it is that embryonic stem cells can cure diseases and that all stem cells come from fertility clinic embryos that will be discarded anyway. Neither belief is entirely true.

In fact, every single one of the successes in treating patients with stem cells thus far -- for spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, for example -- have involved adult or umbilical cord blood stem cells, not embryonic. And though federal dollars still won't directly fund embryo destruction, federally funded researchers can obtain embryos privately created only for experimentation. Thus, taxpayers now are incentivizing a market for embryo creation and destruction.

The insistence on using embryonic stem cells always rested on the argument that they were pluripotent, capable of becoming any kind of cell. That superior claim no longer can be made with the spectacular discovery in 2007 of "induced pluripotent stem cells," the laboratory equivalent of the airplane.

Very simply, iPS cells can be produced from a skin cell by injecting genes that force it to revert to its primitive "blank slate" form with all the same pluripotent capabilities of embryonic stem cells.

"Induced pluripotent stem cells" doesn't trip easily off the tongue. But Time magazine named iPS innovation No. 1 on its "Top 10 Scientific Discoveries" of 2007, and the journal Science rated it the No. 1 breakthrough of 2008.

The iPS discovery even prompted Dr. Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep, to abandon his license to attempt human cloning, saying that the researchers "may have achieved what no politician could: an end to the embryonic stem cell debate." And, just several days ago, Dr. Bernadine Healy, director of the National Institutes of Health under the first President Bush, wrote in U.S. News & World Report that these recent developments "reinforced the notion that embryonic stem cells ... are obsolete."

Many scientists, of course, want to conduct embryonic stem cell research, as they have and always could with private funding. One may agree or disagree with their purposes, but one may also question why taxpayers should have to fund something so ethically charged when alternative methods are available.

Next comes a move to lift the unfortunately named Dickey-Wicker amendment in Congress, which prohibits using tax dollars to create human embryos for research purposes. If the amendment is rescinded, then human embryos can be created and destroyed with federal tax dollars.

Good people can disagree on these things, but those who insist that this is "only about abortion" miss the point. The objectification of human life is never a trivial matter. And determining what role government plays in that objectification may be the ethical dilemma of the century.

In this case, science handed Obama a gift -- and he sent it back.

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At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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