Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some Final Thoughts on Stem Cells

A few articles to put some further perspective on the so-called stem cell good news:

First, over at MereComments they highlight some actual truth telling at the NY Times:

However, the president’s support of embryonic stem cell research comes at a time when many advances have been made with other sorts of stem cells. The Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka found in 2007 that adult cells could be reprogrammed to an embryonic state with surprising ease. This technology “may eventually eclipse the embryonic stem cell lines for therapeutic as well as diagnostics applications,” Dr. Kriegstein said. For researchers, reprogramming an adult cell can be much more convenient, and there have never been any restrictions on working with adult stem cells.

For therapy, far off as that is, treating patients with their own cells would avoid the problem of immune rejection.

Some perspective on the truth of Obama's decision over at WSJ:

..."Moderate" Mr. Obama's policy is not. It will promote a whole new industry of embryo creation and destruction, including the creation of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are destroyed. It forces American taxpayers, including those who see the deliberate taking of human life in the embryonic stage as profoundly unjust, to be complicit in this practice.

Mr. Obama made a big point in his speech of claiming to bring integrity back to science policy, and his desire to remove the previous administration's ideological agenda from scientific decision-making. This claim of taking science out of politics is false and misguided on two counts.

First, the Obama policy is itself blatantly political. It is red meat to his Bush-hating base, yet pays no more than lip service to recent scientific breakthroughs that make possible the production of cells that are biologically equivalent to embryonic stem cells without the need to create or kill human embryos. Inexplicably -- apart from political motivations -- Mr. Obama revoked not only the Bush restrictions on embryo destructive research funding, but also the 2007 executive order that encourages the National Institutes of Health to explore non-embryo-destructive sources of stem cells.

Second and more fundamentally, the claim about taking politics out of science is in the deepest sense antidemocratic. The question of whether to destroy human embryos for research purposes is not fundamentally a scientific question; it is a moral and civic question about the proper uses, ambitions and limits of science. It is a question about how we will treat members of the human family at the very dawn of life; about our willingness to seek alternative paths to medical progress that respect human dignity.... (more)

And from NRO some badly needed perspective on the implications of Obama's shortsighted decsion:

...Unlike the bills Bush vetoed, however, Obama’s action did not replace the existing policy with another set of boundaries grounded in a different ethical calculus.

Instead, Obama eliminated the Bush policy and then took the unusual and provocative step of also rescinding Bush’s 2007 executive order providing support for alternative sources of stem cells — an order that in no way limited embryonic stem-cell research and need not have been retracted.

Having lifted these restrictions, Obama put no rules or boundaries of any kind in their place, instructing the scientists at the National Institutes of Health to do so on his behalf over the next few months.

Obama’s executive order makes no mention of any moral qualm about the destruction of human embryos — whether left over from fertility treatments or created especially for experimentation, including human embryos created by cloning.

The last time NIH scientists were tasked with developing rules for embryo research, in 1994, they returned with proposals so permissive that Bill Clinton felt compelled to reject them. There is no reason to think the NIH will be any more circumspect this time, but President Obama unfortunately has given us considerable reason to think he will not reject even the broadest possible mandate for the exploitation of nascent human lives. With this week’s executive order, Obama has not so much staked out a position in the embryo debate as dismissed the debate itself as unnecessary.

The embryo debate is among the first real tests of our commitment to the equal protection of every human life in the age of biotechnology. The quandaries of this age will only grow more vexing and complicated. But scientific advances in recent years — especially the development of alternative sources of embryonic-like cells that do not necessitate the destruction of human organisms — appear to offer us a way around the test.

President Obama has turned his back on those advances. He has needlessly and clumsily forced a choice between the promise of progress and the respect for life, and has gone out of his way to ensure that we fail the moral test put before us. Let us hope this failure proves reversible in time and does not set the tone for science policy in the years to come.

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