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Stem Cell Research and Willful Ignorance of the Facts
2005.05.20 (Fri) 23:58
Because of the United States' policy to not fund embryonic stem cell research, it has been apparent that as long as the religious right is in power, any advances in that field will necessarily come from other countries. So it wasn't a surprise to see the following AP article:
Just a few years ago, Michigan State University scientist Jose Cibelli was considered the leading expert on cloning human embryos to treat and study disease. Now, there's no debate that the cloning king is Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University.
On Thursday, Hwang announced yet again that he had successfully cloned human embryos, this time extracting stem cells from embryos created using the DNA of sick and injured patients. It was the second time in a little more than a year that Hwang had successfully cloned. He remains the only acknowledged scientist to have done so.
Hwang is succeeding where the United States is failing because generous South Korean government support helped him create an efficient cloning factory. In his lab, an army of researchers trained in specialized individual tasks mans a high-tech assembly line that often operates 24 hours a day, Cibelli and others say.
In contrast, the few U.S. researchers eager to clone are left scrambling for funds and staff and must contend with legal vagaries as well as staunch opposition from President Bush, who reaffirmed his position on Friday with a veto threat.
You could say this makes us sad — but a more accurate description would be downright furious. Quite clearly, Bush is willfully ignoring the facts of embryonic stem cell research in order to cater to his über-religious base, and the rest of us will be forced to pay for his actions. From another AP article, we see Bush's opposition to a bipartisan bill being proposed which would partly relax the ban:
"I'm very concerned about cloning," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. "I worry about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable."
"I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is — I'm against that. And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it."
This sound an awful lot like a creationist argument. Notice how he refers to the process as "cloning" which evokes images of pod people and using clones as slaves. This dishonest manipulation (obviously drilled into Bush by his sound-byte experts) sounds a little bit like creationists insisting upon referring to evolution as "Darwinism," a moniker meant to sound dogmatic in order to paint science as just another faith-based belief.
We also can't help but notice that his rationale for opposing this bill (and we use the term "rationale" very loosely here) basically amounts to "I'm against that," with a liberal dollop of his (always paradoxical) "culture of life" bullshit. Yeah, what a great set of reasons to stifle good science and the strong chance of multitudes of medical breakthroughs.
Let's take a look at the bill in question, and why any rational person with or without any scientific education has no logical excuse for opposing it:
[The proposed] bill would lift Bush's ban on using federal dollars to do research on embryonic stem cell lines developed after August 2001. The president's veto threat drew immediate reaction from sponsors of the bipartisan bill, Reps. Mike Castle, R-Del., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
Castle said the legislation would not allow the cloning of embryos or embryo destruction. Instead, it would let government-funded researchers work with stem cells culled from embryos left over from fertility treatments.
"The bottom line is when a couple has decided to discard their excess embryos, they are either going to be discarded as medical waste or they can be donated for research," Castle said.
DeGette protested too. "It's disappointing that the president would threaten to use his first veto on a bill that holds promise for cures to diseases that affect millions of Americans," DeGette said. "Support for expanding federal stem cell research in an ethical manner remains strong in Congress."
This approach is not new. Reasonable people have been asking to use these IVF leftovers for research purposes for quite some time. It is an undisputed fact that, if they aren't used, they will eventually be destroyed.
We'll say that one more time — if you go in for IVF treatment, excess embryos are produced as part of the process. Once your IVF treatment is completed, the remaining embryos are frozen until you notify the clinic that you no longer want them — at which point they are discarded as medical waste. Why the hell would any sane person oppose the use of these embryos and instead insist that they be destroyed, thereby serving no purpose whatsoever?
We can understand why some people oppose the creation of new human embryos for the sole purpose of scientific research. We don't agree with them, but we can understand their position. But opposing the use of already created embryos that are currently destined for the trash is just willful ignorance. And that's precisely the policy of our president — and by extension our country.
We don't want to hear about adult stem cells, or stem cells culled from umbilical cords — they don't have the same potential for the wide range of tissue growth that embryonic stem cells have, so they aren't an acceptable substitute. Nor is the contaminated pre-2001 line that Bush keeps reminding us he has oh-so-magnanimously allowed to be used for research. Put bluntly, there is no logical reason for the medically stifling policy being pushed by the Bush administration — it is just plain willfull ignorance.
We'll end with the sentiments of Dr. Janet Rowley of the University of Chicago, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics. She sums it up pretty nicely.
"We in the United States, again because of ideology, are sitting back and watching," she said, adding that she hoped the South Korean work would pressure Congress to take a "more responsible position on federal support for the use and investigation of human embryonic stem cell lines."
Given Bush's open (and willfully ignorant) condemnation of South Korea's progress, we somehow doubt that Dr. Rowley's hope will soon be realized.
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[ Filed under: % Government & Politics % Science & Technology ]
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