Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.
First, the Bush policy is a restriction on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research that limits federal grants for such research to studies that make use of a limited number of pre-existing stem cell lines. It is not a ban on embryonic stem-cell research; it in no way impacts adult stem-cell research.
Kerry supporters have said to me that Christopher Reeve's death is "the only reason" he won't walk again now, because embyronic stem cell research is not receiving federal support. (At least they don't claim as John Edwards did the day after Reeve's death that electing Kerry will mean that Reeve would walk again). But the weaker claim is nearly as specious. Embryonic stem cell research didn't even exist before 1998, and we are only at the early stages of knowing what its potential is.
Charles Krauthammer, the columnist for the Washington Post wrote about the Kerry-Edwards demagoguery in this area a couple of weeks back. I don't normally point to opinion columnists on science topics, but, you see, Krauthammer has been paralyzed for 30 years, from an injury suffered when he was in medical school, so I give him a little credit for his perspective.
The truth is that while I may support embryonic stem cell research, the necessarily-related issue of abortion is deeply offensive and contentious to a great many people. That group is larger than many seem to recognize, and is certainly even more politically-engaged and effective than their size alone would suggest. Some may regard it as an unfortunate political reality that their wishes must be given some consideration, but America is composed of many constituencies, and politics is often the art of compromise.
Some Democracts then suggest that the compromise is no compromise at all (because of issues with embryonic stem cell lines) doesn't accurately reflect the current state of affairs, from what I can tell:
- About 25 million in federal funding was spent on embryonic stem cell research last year, confined to the limited number of pre-existing lines, with which I will accept there are issues.
- No clinical trials are underway releated to any embryonic stem-cell program.
- Last year, $190 million in federal money was spent on adult stem cell research, and hundreds of clinical trials are underway using that science.
- Back in early 2002 it was reported that the University of Minnesota's Stem Cell Institute started seeing that bone marrow stem cells as having potentially the same versatility as embryonic stem cells (Boston Globe article on UMN servers):
Now Catherine Verfaillie and colleagues at the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Minnesota may have found a way to coax adult stem cells to be just as versatile - and far less controversial. The findings have yet to be published, and researchers say it's too soon to draw firm conclusions, but the work is already creating a stir in the field.
"The work is very exciting," said stem cell biologist Ihor Lemischka of Princeton University. "[Verfaillie] can show that they can differentiate into pretty much everything that an embryonic stem cell can differentiate into. It's very neat."
- There is no restriction on the use of any embryonic stem cells in privately-funded research investment. If embryonic stem cells are as uniquely promising as is suggested, then it would follow that market forces would flow more money into such research, particularly considering that even the aggregate stem cell money spent by the feds is paltry compared to the research budgets of even an individual biotech company like Amgen.
- I believe the biggest "breakthrough" to date in embryonic stem cell research occurred last month in the UK, where they can produce cells that contain cystic fibrosis genes. This may allow better research into CF, since they haven't been able to use animal models.
- Most scientists seem to indicate the best opportunities for embryonic stem cell research involve stem cell taken from embryos created by very early-stage human cloning, which is, as they say a whole different "kettle of fish." My point being: this is a much more contentious issue than is commonly recognized.
The fact is, stem cell research does offer great opportunities. There are many ways it can be pursued: it doesn't have to be federally-funded. Don't let Kerry supporters hold this as a black-or-white issue. It is contentious, and Bush crafted an effective compromise. Kerry's juvenille remarks along the lines of "It's not enough to do more, the test is are we doing everything that we can," indicates that he clearly doesn't live in the real world, a world on constraints, of scarcity, of differeing opinions. He is, after all, an idealist as I wrote in my last post, the Artisan vs the Idealist. And idealists don't ever get elected President.
For more coverage of things that seem to be poorly understood by many people, see my "Last Chance to Get Some Facts Out" post from Friday. For more discussion of how an ignorant electorate imperils democracy (and have some laughs related to it) see last night's "A Strange Arc From Juvenille Humor to a Serious Topic."
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | | Saturday, October 30, 2004