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Monday, March 9, 2009

Some Perspective on the President's Reversal on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

To no one's surprise, the president today reversed President Bush's policy against federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

President Barack Obama on Monday reversed the Bush administration’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, saying scientists must be allowed to do their work backed by federal dollars because “medical miracles do not happen simply by accident.”

“At this moment, the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown, and it should not be overstated,” Obama said Monday. “But scientists believe these tiny cells may have the potential to help us understand, and possibly cure, some of our most devastating diseases and conditions.”

Obama lifted the eight year old limits on research put in place by President George W. Bush, who said no federal funding could be used for research on new stem cell lines, but only those that existed in 2001.

First of all, very few issues were more distorted by President Bush's opponents than the issue of federal funding for EMBRYONIC stem cell research. First, opponents often simply said that President Bush was against stem cell research. That he wasn't. In fact, President Bush wasn't even against embryonic stem cell research. He wasn't even against federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He merely wanted to limit the funding the embryonic stem cell lines that were already created. The reason being was that the creation of new embryonic stem cells simply for research meant that the embryos had to be created to be destroyed. The president saw this as the destruction of life for research, and he didn't believe that federal tax Dollars should be used for such research. Furthermore, while President Bush didn't allow any federal Dollars for embryonic stem cell research, he didn't ban such experimentation from finding private funds.

The president's opponents successfully painted him as an extremist on this issue when in fact the issue is of great complexity. There must be a medium between science and morality. Without it, things like human cloning would also be federally funded. Maybe we should also fund experiments where dogs are electricuted to see how their central nervous system responds.

Those that have no problem with federal funding for embryonic stem cell research see it this way because to them the embryo is not a life. The embryo has no worth. Scientists can play God with an embryo because the embryo has no more worth than a piece of paper, some lint, or any other inanimate object. In fact though, it is beyond dispute that the embryo is a life. To prove this, I leave it up to Mike Huckabee.

Mike Huckabee was prepared when a voter asked him today about embryonic stem-cell research. He pulled from his pocket a photo of a girl, given to him by a woman at a campaign event.

“This little girl was born from a frozen embryo, frozen for four years, two-cell embryo,” he said. She “became this precious little girl.” He said the girl’s mother told him, “When you think about embryos and stem cells just remember my daughter.”

For me at least, when we are deciding issues of life, I would err on the side of life. Sure, people of good faith can differ on whether or not an embryo is a life, but to me at least, I would err on the side of life. When science respects morality, it finds scientific methods that aren't morally reprehensible. In this case, the federal government now funds and sanctions the destruction of life. It should come as no surprise that in the eight years when this was banned, scientists came up with alternatives to embryonic stem cell research. That's because the president then forced morality and as a result, scientists were forced to look for ways that didn't challenge that morality. This reversal also means that all of those alternatives aren't nearly as relevant.

It is a slippery slope when we allow science to trump morality. If the destruction of an embryo is of small consequence in the name of science, then what other moral issue should be sacrificed in the name of science? These are all questions dismissed by proponents of federal funding for embryonic stem cell reseach. They are dismissed because to them, the embryo is no life at all, and that is what is really scary to those that oppose this decision.


Anonymous said...

Just another good photo op....bill

Anonymous said...

What about the banks?

mike volpe said...

What about the banks? What about them?

Wolf said...

Human consciousness/sentience comes from the human brain. Using embryonic stem cells in research and treatment causes no suffering, and extinguishes no life (where life in this context refers to a conscious/sentient being), as we are referring here to a cluster of cells without even the barest beginnings of a nervous system. Only those with anti-scientific. religious/nonsensical beliefs about a magical, literal "soul" allow their morality to be inverted, and crusade for the suffering and death of millions of human beings, blocking research that in their delusions "kills" human beings-- whereas by rationality and science, these cells cannot constitute conscious/sentient human life.

mike volpe said...

Well, Wolf, welcome back. I very much enjoy our back and forth. I also notice that you are among a rather large of fairly regular readers that are ideologically opposite of me, which hopefully speaks highly of my writing.

that said, the question of what is or isn't life is not one with one answer. To me, human conscience doesn't singularly define life.

That little girl was once an embryo, a frozen embryo at that. If she is living now, what was that embryo if not a life.

You have a certain condescention and arrogance against those that take a view other than you. To me, the destruction of life is the extreme view, but I certainly don't think that calling those that disagree with you extremists is helpful.

Like I said, I believe we should always err on the side of life. You dismiss the fact that as a result of President Bush's order scientists worked on alternatives and created one that rendered embryonic stem cell research nearly moot. This was because President Bush put the onus on science to come up with methods that respected life. This, to you, seems totally irrelevant, and you adhere to a myopic belief in the nebulous concept of "science". Of course, embryonic stem cell research, itself, has given absolutely no firm discoveries. You want to detroy life for the vague hope that this destruction will lead someday to something important. To me, it is better to move science to a more moral approach.

Voicedup said...

Let's think of how many Americans are suffering from ailments and what this research can do for them. I'm sure everyone reading this knows someone important to them that is affected by one of these maladies.Research in the U.S.has not progressed since earlier this decade, cures are a very long time away and lets not even discuss the approval requirement by the FDA. At least this can be seen as a huge step forward to join the rest of the world at bringing about cures that could help millions of people including you and I some day.

mike volpe said...

"Research has not progressed since earlier in this decade". How do you figure on this?

In fact, embryonic stem cell research has not itself made a breakthrough on anything. Furthermore, if it is so great, then it could garner billions in private money from philanthropists all over the world.

I'm sure that human cloning would also lead to all sorts of cures. There are all sorts of research that can lead to cures.

the right way to go is to balance morality with science so that science finds ways to do research that isn't immoral. There are many different research methods, and if science takes care to be moral, it finds methods that balance morality with science.

Destroying life to study it is immoral, and after Bush's ban, science spent the next five years finding alternatives and in fact they have found alternatives.

Ben L. Kemer said...

I think the real question is about how much the embryonic stem cells actually work?

This is something that you can better answer, because if there is little proof that the embryonic stem cells actually didn't do much, if anything, then you have proven to perhaps most Americans that this is a waste of their money for federal funding, which isn't going to result in much treatment for disease.

Also, can alternatives to the embryonic possibly exist?

The fact is that if they can, I think opinion would change significantly, and a large number of people would approve.

I also, though confessing to be religious will say that although many of us are ailing, and possibly in danger, ailments won't all go away, nor are the ESC neccessarily an absolute cure, much less a cheap one. There will always be ailments fatal disease, and death upon the Earth, it's part of what God has in store for all of us to test our character, in some way or another.

My last and final point is mostly about the developed world. I mean, what's more important? Prolonging the life of someone here who is coming on with Alzheimers, or someone who is lucky in their nation to even reach the age of between 40 to 50 at all, has malaria and unsanitary conditions all over the place, and can't even afford close to 1/4 of what most of us here in the U.S. can.

mike volpe said...

Of course, there are alternatives to embryonic stem cell research.
There is regular stem cell research for instance. There is all sorts of research being done on cures for all of these diseases.

Again, if we cloned humans, that would also likely lead to cures. If science makes morality a priority it works on methods that are both moral and fruitful.

Like I said, in the eight years since this received no funding, scientists have found all sorts of viable alternatives.

Simon said...

I am one of those readers who almost always disagrees with you Mike. I am the person who has been arguing with you a lot recently over Obama and health care and Keynesianism

But...amazingly....I find myself in agreement with you here. Perhaps I have gone mad????

I'm not gonna say it's wrong, because I don't know, but it "feels" wrong to me, on that gut level.

Just nasty, limited little man messing with things far bigger than he can comprehend.

It's like a monkey trying to erect a sky scraper. He can see it would be fun to be able to swing from those steel beams hundreds of metres high, and get his little "thrill", and his momentary "benefit", but he doesn't really understand the cost of it, how difficult it is to achieve, and what it really entails to do it.

Man is sort of like that, he wants to swing fro high above, and gloat about his achievements, aren't we great, we overcame something, but overcame what? When does the overcoming and defying end, and some really simple honest living begin?

How many short cuts will the cunning ape-like mind of man conjure up, meanwhile leaving a vast, invisible superstructure of karmic debt? I don't want anything to do with it.

The stem cell thing takes it all on a darker turn because it is blatantly making use of things not designed at all for that purpose, things that were basically designed for life - their own life, not someone else's - and not death.

It's a very big question really. "Open for debate" they say, but that's just the problem, some things shouldn't be open for debate, they should just be left. Like the nuclear thing, it was science for "something better", but all aspects of it lead to problems.

mike volpe said...

That is rather colorful imagery, Simon. Puts quite the vivid picture in my mind. There's nothing like a monkey swinging from skyscraper to drive home a larger point.

Wolf said...

The thing about the little girl is that sure "she" was once an embryo, but we can take this even more to a ridiculous extreme and say before that "she" was the ovum and sperm in their separate locations (and we can keep going back. Did you know by the way that most pregnancies are terminated by nature when the fertilized egg fails to attach to the uterus wall? Perhaps scientists should be looking for a "cure" to this situation where millions of "babies" "die" every month-- but in practice no one cares for the reason I said earlier--this clearly is not a situation where conscious life, an actual baby, is being lost. It would be a futile waste of effort to try to "save" these fertilized eggs). The point is that without a brain the embryo is not a "little girl"; it is no more conscious than a plant. Sure, it has the potential to *become* conscious, once the currently non-existent neural systems come into being, but so does say a skin cell if given the right "triggers". It gets more complicated if scientists ever want to use stem cells to create brains, and then we should start considering ethical limits, but in the situation of just growing or trying to rebuild body parts, and not creating/destroying any brain, then there is no rational moral objection to stem cell research, since no consciousness is created and then extinguished, and no suffering inflicted. This is inarguable from a rational standpoint; only delusional/religious irrationality can argue against this point. Now it may be that the alternatives can work better in all or some cases; the point is research should not be arbitrarily impeded in finding what works best when, and how to utilize the different kinds of stem cells. There are likely things that cannot be achieved without embryonic stem cells, and there are likely things better achieved with other kinds of stem cells; we shouldn't block science from sorting it all out without good reason. One more point, I must say no offense to Simon and what he "feels" but that was one of the most stupid comments I've ever read or heard. Sorry, I'm just easily irked by anti-intellectual Luddism.

mike volpe said...

That's where you and I disagree Wolf. Folks like me believe life begins at CONCEPTION. It doesn't believe when the sperm is separate from the ovum. You are taking it to the ridiculous.

Folks like me believe that there is something other worldly about two separate organisms, the sperm and the ovum, coming together to make one being. That is what see as miraculous. You don't see anything miraculous in that. You see no difference between the sperm on its own doing nothing and the sperm combining with the ovum to create life. I see the creation of life as something beautiful, magical, and miraculous. You find life in some random point that you have created on your own. I see life as what is created by nature the formation of sperm and ovum coming together to create a being.

That is what that embryo is and it is the life that is the little girl. It is something that you refuse to accept.

Anonymous said...

people won't listen. I don't mind listening to your ideas because ideas are ideas, usually interesting even if you don't agree.

But they just charge on ahead, carrying the banner of their one single boring idea, like a boring motif in a very boring old unimaginative song.

There has to be something in their heads I suppose, but does it have to be so damned repetitive? No matter which one you read it's the same old chant - "science shouldn't be constrained by some old tired evangelical moralising, life is a sentient being with a conscious mind, not a little cluster of cells blah blah blah".

It really is tiring

Egy Azziera said...

There is no ban on embryonic stem cell research for President Obama to lift. When Bush provided federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, which no President had done before him, he restricted what research that funding could be used for. He did not ban embryonic stem cell research.