Thursday, December 27, 2007

So Bush Was Right In the Stem Cell Debate?

The Stem Cell debate in this country was often framed as politics getting in the way of science. In a way that is true but not in the way that it was proclaimed. The politics were often "look at George Bush pandering to the religious idiots" etc etc. Many bloggers spent a good couple of years just trying to clarify that Bush and others were not against all forms of Stem cell research.

Vox Nova has a great piece and and link to a must read article at the post “Stem Cells and the President”. I often state that conservatives of all stripes have not appreciated Bush as they should. They have gotten 75 percent of what they wanted and loudly proclaimed that as insufficient. President Bush here took a hard stance that was not popular with some and he was lampooned . However I expect many conservative critics of Bush will let this go and become a footnote in history without saluting Bush on his courage. There were others but as the article points out it was not always the Republican congress. Here is an excerpt:
Democrats sought to use the stem-cell issue to their advantage, and succeeded. Over the next years, to spectacular fundraising effect, the party would tout its vehement opposition to Bush’s policy. In 2006, a close Senate race in Missouri tilted decisively toward the Democrats after the airing of an emotionally affecting television advertisement featuring the actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and who attacked the Republican candidate for his retrograde position on the matter. That victory in Missouri was a key factor in the Democratic takeover of the Senate from the GOP in November. When Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi assumed control of the House of Representatives in early 2007, she declared that undoing the Bush policy was one of her top priorities.
For their part, Republicans have mostly remained in a defensive crouch on the issue, and have tried to avoid discussing it at all. But Bush himself has never wavered, and last year he even used the first two vetoes of his tenure to repel congressional attempts to override the policy.
And then, in November 2007, something remarkable happened. Two of the world’s leading scientific journals, Cell and Science, published findings from researchers in the United States and Japan demonstrating a technique that allows, without the destruction of human embryos, the creation of stem cells identical to those taken from human embryos. The significance of the innovation was undeniable. George Daly, a researcher at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, called it “just a spectacular, spectacular advance. It will change everyone’s thinking about the field.” Ian Wilmut, the Scottish researcher who became famous for his role in cloning Dolly the sheep a decade ago, told the Daily Telegraph he would no longer pursue cloning to produce stem cells, making use instead of this new and wholly uncontroversial method

What makes this article so interesting is that it is an inside account of what was going on in the White House. I was struck by this part-
If our meetings with scientists and advocates were memorable, our discussions of the moral issues were disturbing and haunting. One session involved the bioethicist LeRoy Walters from Georgetown University; another was with John Mendelsohn, the head of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. During a meeting with several participants, the President laid out a series of moral challenges. For example, if an embryo was going to be destroyed anyway, was it not appropriate, perhaps even desirable, to use its stem cells to save other human lives? In response, one person asked whether, on the same grounds, it should not be considered equally acceptable to extract organs from a death-row inmate moments before his execution; after all, society had already decided that he had forfeited his right to live. Another suggested that federal funding might have the unintended consequence of creating financial incentives that would encourage the creation of frozen embryos in order to destroy them.
A few days later, I brought into the Oval Office my copy of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s 1932 anti-utopian novel, and as I read passages aloud imagining a future in which humans would be bred in hatcheries, a chill came over the room. “We’re tinkering with the boundaries of life here,” Bush said when I finished. “We’re on the edge of a cliff. And if we take a step off the cliff, there’s no going back. Perhaps we should only take one step at a time.”

Good Read!!!

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