August 24, 2006

Will the breakthrough in stem cell research resolve the political dispute?

Here's news of an advance in stem cell research which threatens to destroy the political issue elaborately built on the old technology that required the destruction of an embryo. How inconvenient for politicians who face the fall election season who've made this their issue. I wonder if they can let it go, or if they'll find a way to say the problem remains.

On one side, you have social conservatives who are trying to point up their dedication to the pro-life set of values. On the other side, you have those who oppose pro-lifers and have -- quite sensibly -- seen a big opportunity to amass public support by emphasizing the very widespread interest in finding cures for various diseases.

Consider the Wisconsin governor's race between the Republican challenger Mark Green and Governor Jim Doyle. Doyle must be upset to see this new research reported now. Look at this article from a month ago:
If Gov. Jim Doyle and Democrats have their way, the biggest issue in the campaign against Republican Mark Green will be smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

With the hope of attracting undecided voters and driving a wedge into Green's support, Doyle has launched a relentless effort to paint Green as an opponent of stem cell research, which is seen as holding the promise of treatments for a host of debilitating diseases....

In general, analysts see little risk for Doyle in pushing the issue, and potentially a high reward. Doyle already is unlikely to win the votes of those who oppose abortion - the same voters who raise the gravest concerns about embryonic stem cell research....

The Doyle campaign has created a steering committee of nationally known stem cell advocates, hired a full-time stem cell coordinator (an unheard of position for a campaign) and worked to build a network of people for whom the issue hits home.
Will Doyle let go of the issue now? Look how organized he is around the issue and how niftily it works for him. (It's certainly been working on me.) And he's got a special team of advisors on this issue. Don't you think they're brainstorming right now about how to keep the controversy going?

If they try to explain away the new research, they need to be careful not to ruin what is most appealing about their position: a strong support for science. If they overreach now, their position will look a lot more like political posturing than it did before, and, as that month-old article shows, it already was starting to look that way.

UPDATE: And the FDA just approved the over-the-counter "morning-after" pill. In other science news, less likely to affect elections, Pluto is so not a planet... despite all your affection.

97 comments:

Dave said...

So...pro-lifers are "pro life" but opposed to scientific inquiry which may cure a number of diseases.

Mantra: the only thing I ask of the religious is that they consider the depths to which religion has sunk man.

Ann Althouse said...

Well, that's the way the issue is worked by the other side. That's well noted. You're restating the debate as it's been framed. Now, address the new issue.

Dave said...

Well, one reason I chose nto to go to law school is I don't like the idea that one needs to see every side to a debate.

There are some issues about which the opposing side's "argument" is so ludicrous as to call to mind flat-earthers.

I don't engage with luddites, period. Especially religious ones. Far too many other things to worry about in life.

Take that as you will.

SWBarns said...

I have always enjoyed your precise language "those who oppose pro-lifers and have -- quite sensibly -- seen a big opportunity to amass public support by emphasizing the very widespread interest in finding cures for various diseases."

You have left out any implication that this is good science or lead to cures. More and more this looks like the Laetrile of the new century.

Democrats have latched on to their best wedge issue in years "look at the fundamentalist republicans they won't let us do this great research, they probably still believe that the world is flat." Embryonic stem cell scientists have gone along because they are waiting for the money to start rolling in.

When science and politics commingle, the result is usually ugly. A real threat to scientific progress is 'animal-rights' terrorism. Real scientists are leaving real research or having their life's work destroyed and terrorist groups are still treated respectfully as animal activists.

Ann Althouse said...

Dave, that's not the point of my response to you. I would think a science devote would do a better job of reading and perceiving issues.

Ann Althouse said...

swbarnes: Do you think science should exclude moral and ethical reasoning?

monkeyboy said...

There have been many opposed to the use of fetal cells who have talked about the better benefits of cells from umbilical cords or from adults. The science I think continues to confirm this.

I fthis continues, "Luddites" may start being applied to the other side, and without the minimal benefit of at least being for something like snowflake babies.

Mark Daniels said...

Not all pro-life pols have been opposed to stem cell research up to this point. Orrin Hatch, for example, is considered pro-life, but has supported stem cell research. There are others.

A minor point perhaps. But clearly, this issue already wasn't playing out the way some pundits thought that it would. This latest development likely takes the entire debate in yet another direction.

corporate law drudge said...

Whether the religious right can resist looking this horse in the mouth remans to be seen:

"...Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, suggested that the new procedure would not satisfy the objections of Mr. Bush.... [S]he said: 'Any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical questions. This technique does not resolve those concerns.'"

MadisonMan said...

The problem as I see it is that the pro-life wing of the Republican Party is hostile to business. There are potentially myriad business opportunities that can evolve out of stem cell research -- but the less business-oriented wing of the Republican party quashes that. At some point, you gotta think the business Republicans will say "Enough". Although I don't know where they'd go -- they're in the same quandry as Democrats who don't want to abandon Iraq.

Even if this breakthrough stays -- Green can still be painted as extreme. Heck, he's rather incinerate embryos than save lives with them. How's that for a sound-bite?

SWBarns said...

Ann: I don't think any area should exclude moral and ethical reasoning. Getting to Dave's comment, I don't think that including moral and ethical behavior as a part of research makes you a Luddite. Medical ethics prevent all sorts of behaviors, which would otherwise speed research. An extra blood draw from every medical patient for research would not cause any harm to the patient and I'm sure there is a researcher who might put this to very good use. It isn’t done without the patients consent because it would be unethical to do so.

A big part of the politics of this issue is muddying the waters around the types of stem cells. A population that believes embryonic stem cell research equals all stem cell research much more likely to take the Democratic Party line on this. “Bush opposes embryonic stem cell research” is a much better line than “Bush is the first president to support stem cell research” but both statements are true.

Even Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of Advanced Cell Technology, seems to miss characterize the opposition to embryonic stem cell research “There is no rational reason left to oppose this research.” It is unclear what he means by “this research.” If his work is proven to be correct there will be two types of embryonic stem cell research “embryo destroying” embryonic research and “donor cell” embryonic research. Speaking for both the pro-life scientific community and President Bush, I see no ethical problem with “donor cell” embryonic research.

Icepick said...

MadisonMan wrote: There are potentially myriad business opportunities that can evolve out of stem cell research -- but the less business-oriented wing of the Republican party quashes that. At some point, you gotta think the business Republicans will say "Enough".

Yesterday Orlando Florida won the bidding to get a bio-tech company to move here from San Diego. This is part of a larger effort to diversify both Orlando's economy and the economy of the whole state. My understanding is that this company has or is doing stem-cell research. This was touted as a big win for the region and the state at a press conference headed up by Governor Jeb Bush, a pro-life Republican!

MadisonMan, it might not be that big a wedge issue, at least in some of the bigger Republican states. Everybody loves good jobs, afterall.

bill said...

For an article in the science section, I would've like to have seen more emphasis on the science. Especially for a procedure yet to be confirmed. Yes, politics is part of the story, but a story on the political posturing could have gone somewhere else.

my bumper sticker: When stem cells are outlawed, only outlaws will have genetically improved children living longer, smarter, disease-free lives.

Freder Frederson said...

“Bush opposes embryonic stem cell research” is a much better line than “Bush is the first president to support stem cell research” but both statements are true.

This is exactly why the opponents of embryonic stem cell research are so dishonest. Bush is the first president to support embryonic stem cell research simply because the technology to conduct it didn't exist before he was president. It's like saying FDR was the first president to support research on computers. It proves nothing.

The other arguments used by opponents are equally dishonest. Because the research is basic research, the benefits are still years away. The research into other types of stem cells is much more advanced and starting to yield concrete benefits. To compare the two is unfair. That is why government support is so essential. Private industry is generally not very good at funding basic research, the benefits are too remote.

Another dishonest tactic used by those opposed to stem cell research is to imply that somehow these stem cells are derived from aborted babies or purposefully created specifically for research. Heck, Congress even passed a bill prohibiting such actions. This is a complete fabrication. All the embryos come from fertility clinics where their ultimate fate would otherwise be incineration as medical waste. If the opponents of stem cell research were really so concerned about the destruction of "innocent life" they would be working forcefully in Congress to ban all fertility and reproductive treatments that produce excess embryos. Of course this would mean the pro-life movement would lose most of its support.

SWBarns said...

Mona Charen in National Review Online which I would call "Pro-Life" and Dave would call "Luddite" seems to recognize that this is important:

Cautiously optimistic on this stem cell news. If news reports turn out to be correct, the procedure they’re describing [big snip]is really what it seems to be, then it passes a key moral test – it does not destroy life.

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OWVjMzE4MmYwMzJmNjc1OGY4NjY1YTY5ODkzZjdkYTA=

JohnF said...

I think this is very good news from a variety of standpoints.

First, the pro-lifies who opposed the destruction of embryos should be happy it needn't happen.

Second, we won't have to debate whether sufficient advances can be made with non-embryonic stem cells.

Third, the currently absent federal funding for embryonic stem cell research might now become available.

And most importantly, fourth, science can march on without interference on this front.

All in all, this is terrific news.

SWBarns said...

I agree with JohnF.

You know it is going to be a long day when Freder shows up to call you dishonest.

Freder, I don’t think you know anything about this debate other than what you have read in your talking points. This is the sort of news that has political hacks running for their consultants because it has the possibility to change the landscape completely (which I think was the original point of your post before Dave and I hijacked it).

J said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
J said...

As a stem cell agnostic, I just don't see this as a successful wedge issue. The three arguments that immediately come to mind are

1. The benefits of this kind of research are too ethereal at this point for the public to get that worked up about it.

2. There is no law against stem cell research, only a law against paying for it with federal money. If this research is so promising, why do drug companies need federal subsidies to do it?

3. A politician in trouble can simply say they don't oppose stem cell research using this method.


I think the first point is why it might be tough to beat opponents over the head with this, and to those who will inevitably rebut the second point, understand that I'm not necessarily saying it's valid, just that it will work as a political argument. Your rebuttal needs to fit into a comparably sized soundbite. The third would probably render the issue moot in any case.

Abraham said...

So...pro-lifers are "pro life" but opposed to scientific inquiry which may cure a number of diseases.

So I take it, Dave, that you are not opposed - in principle - to Mengele-style medical experimentation on prisoners and undesirables? Because that may result in a fantastic array of cures and treatments.

If you're not, and your reasoning has to do with respect for human life and dignity, then ask yourself if you are not beggint the question with your argument that the "pro-life" position is ipso facto "ludicrous."

mikeyes said...

But this is politics, not science.

The President did not seem too thrilled by the prospect of growing stem cells from a biopsy and I doubt that Representative Green will be thrilled either. So Gov. Doyle will probably still be able to use his political tactic of branding Rep. Green as anti-"whatever" and make it stick.

There are people in Wisconsin who object to in vitro fertilization on religious grounds who would object to the use of these stem cells and I think that Rep. Green relies on them for support and money. The dynamic of the governor's race in Wisconsin should not change all that much, even with this information.

JohnF said...

Sheesh! You can't win. I see that today the FDA just approved the morning after pill. Kiss those proto-people good bye, and here we go again.

Sloanasaurus said...

I think this is a troubling political result for democrats. The stem cell debate was a great one for them because the prospects of curing paralysis is so pornographic that people will do their damndest to support it.

The stem cell debate should no go away. Conservatives who were against using embryonic stem cells should capitalize on the new discovery by not only announcing their support for the new research but also by restating how they were willing to stick to higher principles in the pursuit of human progress. In contrast, where democrats were not willing to stick to such principles - they were willing to be Dr. Mengle.

Republicans should take credit for the new discovery. They should argue that if it wasn't for conservative opposition, no research would have been done on extracting an individual cell for stem cell research.

SWBarns said...

Can't we draw a distinction between a post-doctoral student doing embryonic stem cell research and Dr. Mengle?

Not drawing this line reduces your arguement, if you can't win without citing Mengle you probably shouldn't.

More importantly equating the two mitigates the horror of Mengle's crimes.

MadisonMan said...

Republicans should take credit for the new discovery. They should argue that if it wasn't for conservative opposition, no research would have been done on extracting an individual cell for stem cell research.

While this argument might resonate for some, it shows an astonishing ignorance of how science advances. The idea that no scientist would pursue the line of thinking that lead to this advancement if embryonic stem cell research was federally funded ignores the curiosity of all scientists.

Ignoring facts is a hallmark of all politicians, of course.

Sloanasaurus said...

True Madison Man. But the hallmark of the stem cell debate is complete ignorance of the facts and of the science. It's all based on a drunken dream - that Superman will get up out of his wheel chair and start walking.

SWBarns said...

"We will stop juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases . . . When John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

- Senator John Edwards, a week after Reeve died.

Freder Frederson said...

Freder, I don’t think you know anything about this debate other than what you have read in your talking points.

I know a lot about this debate. I also know the difference between basic and applied research. And I also know that all the arguments that the opponents of stem-cell research make are dishonest (unless they just as forcefully are working to shut down fertility clinics and ban invitro fertilization methods).

I noticed you just attacked me and didn't bother to respond to any of my points. Where was I factually incorrect? Did the technology to conduct embryonic stem cell research before President Bush became president? Aren't all the embryos that are used for stem cell research destined (except for that miniscule fraction that become "snowflake babies") to become medical waste? Isn't adult and umbilical cord stem cell research much more advanced and therefore yielding results while embryonic reseacrch is still at the basic research level so expecting immediate or comparable results now dishonest and unfair?

Give it your best shot instead of just ridiculing me.

Freder Frederson said...

2. There is no law against stem cell research, only a law against paying for it with federal money. If this research is so promising, why do drug companies need federal subsidies to do it?

Simply because drug companies don't like doing basic research. Basic research doesn't bear commercially profitable fruit for a long time and there are lots of dead ends. That is the nature of the beast. But it is vital. That is why government support is so vital. Almost every technological advance of the twentieth century got its start with government funding or in government lab.

Freder Frederson said...

It's all based on a drunken dream - that Superman will get up out of his wheel chair and start walking.

And comparing those who conduct embryonic stem cell research to Mengele is less dishonest?

Roger Sweeny said...

It is ironic.
Politicians who support federal funding for all embryonic stem cell research have said, "Restricitions on embryonic stem cell funding are wrong because, though scientists haven't done it yet, they WILL discover cures for various diseases using embryonic stem cells."

Now, they may have to say, "Restricitions on embryonic stem cell funding are wrong because, even though preliminary research indicates that new supplies of embryonic stem cells can be gotten within the funding limits, scientists WILL NOT be able to make that research practical.

Joan said...

I also know that all the arguments that the opponents of stem-cell research make are dishonest

So, when I say it disturbs me that human embryos are being created in a lab solely for the purpose of extracting their stem cells, and that they will then be discarded, you're calling me a liar? You're saying it doesn't disturb me?

You're saying that there is no conceivable reason that a rational person could be bothered by that?

Wow.

IMO this new technique doesn't solve the sourcing problem all that much. Most lab-created embryos are never implanted and allowed to develop into babies. That's a huge problem. Of course, it's also a huge problem that the harvesting methods used to date destroyed the embryo, but to say that it was the only problem is simply wrong.

Ann, I take issue with your view that this is a "political issue elaborately built on the old technology..." It's not a political issue to me, it is an ethical one.

And Feder, if you think us pro-life types rest easy about the fate of the thousands of frozen embryos at fertility clinics, you're wrong. But as with birth control, the genie is already out of the bottle with in vitro fertilization, and I can't see a way to put it back in.

Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. In vitro fertilization is, oddly enough, more about death than life.

Smilin' Jack said...

I hope pro-life wackos aren't going to wuss out on this...there are still plenty of reasons to oppose this research.

Hacking off one-eighth of a child's body, a procedure which provides no benefit to the child and to which he/she cannot meaningfully consent, certainly constitutes child abuse and endangering the welfare of a minor.

Dr. Lanza said...that there was no evidence that a single blastomere could develop into a person.

Well, there's no evidence it can't, either. That would require further research...except of course that research would itself be immoral. So this question can't be resolved, and we can't take the risk that destroying a blastomere is actually murder.

El Presidente said...

Roger-

I think it is already proven that no one around here understands irony.

SWBarns said...

Freder: I knew it was going to be a long day. Here goes:

1) "all the arguments that the opponents of stem-cell research make are dishonest"
--Are you talking about adult or embryonic stem cell research. I’m not an opponent of stem cell research but I am an opponent of embryo destroying research, I guess only half of what I say is dishonest. This a discussion that requires precise terms, your inability to use these terms is what leads me to believe that you are a hack or you don’t know as much about this debate as you think you do.

2) “Did the technology to conduct embryonic stem cell research before President Bush became president?”
--Yes, the first publications on embryonic stem cell research were in 1998 out of Johns Hopkins and the University of Wisconsin. Not only are you wrong, but you didn’t get my point my both statements were true and political spin determines which is used.

3) “Aren't all the embryos that are used for stem cell research destined (except for that miniscule fraction that become "snowflake babies") to become medical waste?”
--Non sequitor, and you can justify some pretty bad behavior using this logic. I would rather worry about increasing the number of “snowflake babies” or improving the IVF process to reduce the number of embryos created so that underlying concerns about the IVF process will be lessened. For families that just want a baby the destruction of unused embryos is a difficult issue.

4) “Isn't adult and umbilical cord stem cell research much more advanced and therefore yielding results while embryonic research is still at the basic research level so expecting immediate or comparable results now dishonest and unfair?”
--Adult and umbilical cord stem cell research is closer to commercialization. Not only that, but the more advanced cord blood research may show that cord blood stem cell are pluripotent (can form all cell types), which is the draw for research using embryonic cells. I'm not arguing that embryo destroying research shouldn't be done because it is inefficient so I don't think you can characterize me as dishonest or unfair.

5) “Simply because drug companies don't like doing basic research. Basic research doesn't bear commercially profitable fruit for a long time and there are lots of dead ends.”
--I’m sure that drug companies would rather have the government pay for their research. It seems that Advanced Cell Technology has some cash to spend on this type of research. If the research is successful their investors will be rolling in doe.

Pogo said...

Freder,
Your cry of "dishonest" is meant to serve as a trump card to prevent further discussion by claiming the presumed moral high ground. It's poor argumentation, conclusory, and avoids the points raised.

It's also childish, akin to yelling "is not!" after your opponent speaks. It signals to the wise that one's best approach is to ignore your posts altogether, as responding to them has no apparent effect.

gbdub said...

Aggh! I actually agree with Freder about something ;) . I think j's number 2 is in fact very handily answered by his number 1. Which is just a pithier way of saying exactly what Freder just said.

Also, I agree that this new research, if valid (it still sounds awfully preliminary and inefficient), should force the administration to reconsider federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. I thought the objection was logically inconsistent (ok to make, then throw out embryos, not okay to pluck out of trash and harvest stem cells (though I guess you could say that would be analogous to donating organs without permission, since they'd just 'be thrown out anyway'-but I don't think I ever heard that argument made by the administration). However, such as it is, the objection was premised on embryonic research requiring embryo destruction. This new method would seem to remove the grounds for that objection.

What bothers me is how ludicrously this would have to be implemented in practice. Let's say Bush says that it's okay to fund this type of research (a smart political move, since it would be both morally consistent and would bring back some people he alienated with his earlier stem cell stance without actually admitting he was wrong). So then what are stem cell researchers going to do? Well, probably take a couple cells out of each embryo at the fertility clinic, and then throw the rest out as they've always done. Now THAT seems just plain silly. But that's the result I think is most likely, since it's probably the most politically neutral. Sigh. Sort of like saying, well, when I die, before you cremate me, you can take one of my kidneys, but you better not take both! And don't even go near my liver!

PS, to Joan, I guess at least you're more or less consistent by saying you oppose fertility clinics as well, however your stance that you don't actively oppose in vitro fertilization simply because it's allowed now strikes me as being uncommitted. By this logic, it's pointless to be an activist against *anything* that is currently allowed.

Also, I think a lot of people misunderstand the fertility clinic angle. First, most stem cell researchers will use leftover embryos rather than using embryos 'created in a lab solely for the purpose of extracting their stem cells' simply because it saves a lot of work and the trouble of getting embryos donated 'fresh' (for lack of a better term). So bear in mind that, in most cases, the net number of destroyed embryos is exactly the same whether embryonic stem cell research occurs or doesn't.

Also, it's hardly like these clinics are generating embryos all willy-nilly because they have some sort of strange desire to incinerate the things and tick off pro-lifers. The reason so many embryos are created is because it often takes multiple attempts to generate a successful in vitro birth. Usually, multiple embryos are injected to ensure that at least one will successfully implant. This is why such treatment generates a high rate of multiple births. Extra embryos are kept on hand because the extraction of ova and subsequent fertilization is a difficult costly, and not 100% efficient process, and it doesn't make sense to go back in for more eggs if the initial implantation fails.

Also, consider that, while in vitro fertilization is inefficient and results in many unused embryos, it also creates life where otherwise none would be able to be created. It's a long, hard, and expensive process only undertaken by couples who've exhausted a lot of other options, and thus people who use the procedure have a significant degree of stability and financial solvency.

I guess it's hard for me to consider someone 'pro-life' if they oppose a technology that allows children to be born into loving families that would otherwise be without children.

Eck, I always try to make a pithy post, and it ends up a tome (tomb? maybe you should throw some epitaphs at me).

Freder Frederson said...

So, when I say it disturbs me that human embryos are being created in a lab solely for the purpose of extracting their stem cells, and that they will then be discarded, you're calling me a liar?

You are either a liar or ignorant. Human embryos are never created for the specific purpose of extracting their stem cells (in fact Congress has now passed a law to ban this non-existent "practice"). All embryonic stem cell lines come from in-vitro fertilization clinics. They are unimplanted blastocysts from in-vitro fertilization. If not used for embryonic stem cell research they would become medical waste and discarded. To contend otherwise is simply dishonest. If you are mistaken you need to educate yourself before you make such assertions.

I can understand if the idea of in-vitro fertilization bothers you, but your anger should be addressed at those clinics and procedures (there are something like 400,000 embryos in the U.S. that will eventually be discarded) if you truly believe that human life begins at conception. But somehow I think the pro-life movement would quickly lose steam if it began targeting fertility clinics and harassing fertility clinics rather than abortion providers.

I just don't see the protesters out in front of fertility clinics calling the clients and doctors murderers nor have I ever heard of a fertility clinic bombing or a doctor shot or threatened with death if he didn't stop praticing. So your statements of concern ring hollow.

The genie is also out of the bottle on abortion, but you haven't given up on that one, have you? In vitro fertilization is a hell of a lot more expensive than an abortion and has been around a lot shorter time (less than twenty years as opposed to the entire recorded history of mankind for abortion).

Tim Sisk said...

Ann asks: "Will the breakthrough in stem cell researc resolve the politicaldispute?"

My answer: It does for this person who opposes research that destroys embryos. I'm not a scientist, so my opinion can only speaks to the "moral" question. I would go a step further and say doesn't the fact that science seems to have come up with a way that gets around "destroying the embryo" validate "pro-lifers" very strong assertion that there other ways of doing the research without destroying embryos? And scientist were able to do it rather quickly to it seems. The demagoguery from those supporting this sort of research was rather obscene (and yes, there was plenty of that going around).

Regarding "J's" point two about federal research, I understand Feder's point, he may be right, I don't know. But the propoganda has been that this is the way and we can cure all those things, yet there has been NO SERIOUS PRIVATE INVESTMENT. If this research was a promising as alleged, isn't there a Soros, Gates, or Buffet willing to take a small risk, fund it to the enrichment of themselves all the while scoring a political victory against Andrew Sullivan's "Christianists"? Yet outside of California (as a state looking to invest in this research), I'm unaware of any serious consideration.

Of course, had there been serious private investment, the above pro-lifers would have lobbied to have the actual research outlawed, so perhaps I'm unfair on that point. (And I haven't really thought through what postion I would take on that issue).

Joan said...

I guess it's hard for me to consider someone 'pro-life' if they oppose a technology that allows children to be born into loving families that would otherwise be without children.

Adoption is not an option in your world, I see.

Feder, you're a piece of work, you are: I just don't see the protesters out in front of fertility clinics calling the clients and doctors murderers nor have I ever heard of a fertility clinic bombing or a doctor shot or threatened with death if he didn't stop praticing. So your statements of concern ring hollow.

There's so much wrong with this that I don't know where to begin. Do I really need to say that far more children are lost through abortion every year? That the number of embryos waiting to be discarded is comparatively miniscule, precisely because of the expense and difficulty that went into creating them? Right to Life groups focus on abortion because it has permeated our society. If you can't figure out that there's no point in making a huge issue out of something that affects only a miniscule percentage of the population when a much more pervasive horror exists, then you are an idiot.

It's sad but true that a handful of whackos can taint a group's reputation forever. The overwhelming majority of pro-life advocates use peaceful methods of protest and working through the political process. I can't recall the last time an abortion clinic was bombed or an abortionist threatened with death, and I'm sure if it had happened, it would be all over the news. Yes, the pro-life movement has had some extremists, but they do not represent the movement as a whole, and never have. They have always been strongly repudiated by the movement. Yet you seem to think that because there are no nutjobs targetting fertility clinics, pro-lifers are just fine with what goes on there, which is just weird. It's not as if no one has ever said a word about it or anything. And if you search on "embryo adoption", you'll get a lot of hits.

Saying, "the embryos will be discarded as medical waste anyway" isn't persuasive. That practice can, and should, be changed, so that the "extra" embryos can be made available for adoption.

gbdub said...

Freder, lay off the 'you're either ignorant or a liar' thing. You say that or something equivalent to somebody at least once on seemingly every thread - has it *ever* done anything except tick people off? It is in fact possible to disagree with you, even to make factually incorrect statements, without being either dishonest or willfully ignorant. It's called being mistaken, and as it's a state you're in as often as anybody, I suggest you be more forgiving of it.

That said, I agree with everything after your first paragraph.

swbarns, in response to your earlier 5 points (I won't get into 1 more than I already have)

2)On this point you are correct, as far as I can determine. The third, neutral statement would be, 'George Bush is the first president to create public policy related to stem cell research'. However, all three of those statements could be called 'accurate'.

3) You may discount this line of argument, but I wouldn't call it a non-sequitur. I'm curious as to what other 'bad behavior' could be justified under the heading of 'potentially life saving (on a massive scale) research using only medical waste as source material'. Involuntary organ donation doesn't count, since legally the embryos, being -9 months old, are below the age of consent and the status of their tissue upon their demise is the decision of their parents. (This is somewhat tongue in cheek so don't rip me too much). It must be kept in mind that *zero* embryos are being destroyed for the sake of stem cell research, and, in any case, the number of embryos used in research is a tiny fraction of the number created and subsequently discarded for IVF treatments. However, it is undeniable that stem cell research is getting significantly more pro-life public wrath.

4)Embryonic and cord blood research are two distinctly different lines. Either one may or may not actually bear fruit. To my mind, it would be dangerous not to persue both. Say cord blood doesn't work. Should we have to wait an additional decade or more after this determination to reap the potential of embryonic cells because we didn't start the research now? The fact that embryonic research is less commercially viable makes it a *better* candidate for government research dollars, since presumably the private dollars will flow to the area closer to commercial viability.

5) A small number of labs may be able to sustain embryonic research on private funding alone. But most places where this initial research would occur (non-profit, usually university run labs) need federal funding to make significant progress. The government is just better posistioned to throw money to high risk, high reward preliminary research. I don't think we should slow down medical progress just because we're worried that, heaven forbid, someone might make a profit off of it.

Freder Frederson said...

But the propoganda has been that this is the way and we can cure all those things, yet there has been NO SERIOUS PRIVATE INVESTMENT.

This of course, is completely untrue. There has been a lot of private investment in this research otherwise we wouldn't be hearing about it (the lines the president touted are useless). The inescapable fact, however, is that government financing is vital for advancing basic research in any field you care to mention. Denying federal funds for this research, which is still at the basic research phase, hurts. The ban is written so broadly it precludes research at almost any institute or public university that receives federal funds of any type.

gbdub said...

Joan,

'apparently adoption is not an option'

So you should have the right to create your own children while there are thousands of children waiting to be adopted? And a low sperm count or a defective fallopian tube immediately terminates this right? While we're in the habit of reading too far into each other's arguments, I propose that, by your logic, every person who has their own child while any child (or apparently embryo as well) is available for adoption is morally repugnant and should be jailed.

The fact is, creating life in one's own image is *the* fundamental drive of nature, and, for some people, making a child with the person they love is understandably very different from raising someone else's child. I don't see a problem with that.

By the way, I don't see how the 'embryo adoption' program is going to help. Now, it may be a good option for some couples who are completely infertile and want to experience a pregnancy, but doesn't it seem more humanitarian to support adoption of living children? Maybe you can stand by an absolutist view that a blob of a few dozen cells in a cryogenic freezer is morally equivalent to a living, breathing, thinking, concious child, but I can't.

By the way, remember that the percentage of fertilizations that actually get carried to term is actually somewhat low (the number I heard was that 1/6th of all pregnancies end in miscarriage). If an embryo is on the same moral level as a human being, shouldn't mothers that allow embryos to pass through their uterus unimplanted be prosecuted for child neglect?

PS to Freder:
As long as you're going to strictly enforce factual accuracy, the statement "the lines the president touted are useless" is "completely untrue". *Almost all* of the lines the president touted are useless.

Jason said...

What bothers me the most in this debate and has even shown up in these comments, is that embyronic stem cell research has grown so PC that proponents tend to downplay the incredible successes of adult stem cell research and umbilical cord stem cell research.

I'm also disturbed that many, perhaps most, attempts to honestly discuss the morality and ethics of embryonic stem cell research are viciously attacked. Granted, some opposition on moral grounds is purely knee jerk reaction, but not all.

Furthermore, why is the word luddite thrown at those simply opposed to the government funding this research? I tend to take this tact, but I tend to oppose quite a bit of government funding (not just for fiscal reasons; when government gets involved in something, it tends to regulate that thing and usually does a really bad job at it. Witness this very issue under discussion.)

snarkalicious said...

This whole debate is really silly to me - that is, using embryos that going to be discarded, for research, to try to find cures for the most horrifying diseases know to man.

That said, I accept a "pro-lifer" at their word when they object to stem cell research, and abortion for that matter, for moral or ethical reasons. I get it.

More often than not, I see stem cell research and abortion as a political football for conservatives, to throw around to charge the base, and to raise money. This is why I think Republicans will never overturn Roe v Wade. Its a great wedge issue, and conservative groups raise a ton of money on it.

I seriously doubt anyone in this Administration cares one iota about blastocysts sitting in a petri dish somewhere.

Every.Blastocyst.Special.

Until it grows up and disagrees with you, then its ok to kill it.

Roger Sweeny said...

gbdub,

You are absolutely right that in vitro fertilization creates new life. But if you believe that embryos are alive, it also creates new death as these surplus embryos are destroyed.

If I got two women pregnant and then killed one of the kids when it came out, would I be pro-life or pro-death?

SWBarns said...

Gbdub: Bravo on making your argument without ad hominem attacks. Freder seems to believe that anyone that disagrees with him is a lying hayseed (poorly educated and easily lead).

I don’t really expect to convince you but here are my thoughts:

1) I think we agree on this.

2) Each of the following statements is true:
--“Bush opposes embryonic stem cell research”
-- “Bush is the first president to support stem cell research”
--'George Bush is the first president to create public policy related to stem cell research'

Which statement is used defines where you stand politically. Ann’s point (I believe) is that this new discovery shifts the technology on which the political debate is based.

3) If the destruction of embryos for scientific research is unethical it is unethical, whether or not the embryos would otherwise be destroyed does not change its ethical status. My point was that more effort should be put into reducing the number of embryos used in the IVF process rather than treating them as a resource. The inefficiency of the IVF process is heart breaking for families with multiple failed implantations. It isn’t great for those who have four or five of the embryos implant.

4) Embryonic cells were the first to be discovered to differentiate into various cell types. This pluripotency is what aroused initial interest in embryonic stem cell research. Later research is showing that cord blood is pluripotent as well. The government has chosen not to fund research that a large part of the population thinks is unethical. California has taken a different route (one that I disagree with) but that’s Federalism. We can debate private investment should bring things to market quickly while Federal cash does basic research versus invest government money to bring life saving the most advanced techniques to market quickly all day.

5) I have no problem with federal investment or of people making money off of that investment later. All pharmaceutical companies manage high risk/high reward projects. Big Pharma and small have the money and the will to invest in embryonic research. They also have a much better ability to distinguish good science from bad and to consider risk v. benefit.

dklittl said...

Call me a cynic, but I don't think that the new information will change the overall debate one bit. If you think for a second that the new research will appease James Dobson and people of his ilk, I have a bridge to sell you.

I for one don't dismiss the ethical concerns for stem-cell research but the reality is that stem-cells are going to be destroyed regardless of what bill Bush signs. But the other side of the ethical question is still out there in terms of "How many lives could be saved by advanced stem-cell expirementation?"

So, I don't think that this is black and white, but from what I hear and see, the staunch pro-lifers really do.

Joan said...

So you should have the right to create your own children while there are thousands of children waiting to be adopted?

There is no "right to reproduce." There is a capability to reproduce, unassisted.

And a low sperm count or a defective fallopian tube immediately terminates this right?

Again, it's not a right. If it were a right, then in vitro clinics would be sponsored by the government and our tax dollars would be paying for the procedures.

Look: I can't win marathons or do cartwheels. Those are among my many physical limitations. Infertility is a very tough problem, but spending thousands and thousands of dollars making new babies when there are so many out there already waiting to be adopted is problematic to me. It's a practice I disagree with, even though it's not my money and only affected me peripherally when a family member attempted IVF.

While we're in the habit of reading too far into each other's arguments, I propose that, by your logic, every person who has their own child while any child (or apparently embryo as well) is available for adoption is morally repugnant and should be jailed.

Is this rhetorical style working for you? I'd go a different way.

The fact is, creating life in one's own image is *the* fundamental drive of nature, and, for some people, making a child with the person they love is understandably very different from raising someone else's child. I don't see a problem with that.

Believe me, I'm well aware of the difficulties and sacrifices that parents who adopt must face. I understand the desire to have your own kid (I have kids myself). But you can't always get what you want. The fertility industry comes to the rescue and says, "We can fix that! Here's your baby!" albeit after months of painful injections, difficult procedures, and tens of thousands and dollars. It seems very selfish to me.

The very existence of the fertility industry is leading women to wait longer and longer to have kids, and then, in their late 30s and early 40s, they're finding they can't pregnant. They're relying on the fertility industry to bail them out, since they've bought into the idea that it's OK to wait until you're 40 to have your kids. Realistically, it's not OK. I think women who wait that long need to accept the fact that they might not be able to conceive, and live with the choices they made.

By the way, I don't see how the 'embryo adoption' program is going to help. Now, it may be a good option for some couples who are completely infertile and want to experience a pregnancy, but doesn't it seem more humanitarian to support adoption of living children?

Why does it have to be on or the other? Why not both? Not every woman can carry a child, some can. Why not let those who could carry, but cannot conceive on their own, adopt an embryo? How can allowing embryo adoption "not help"? The choice is not always going to be between adopting an embryo or a born child, and to suggest otherwise as you do here is silly.

Maybe you can stand by an absolutist view that a blob of a few dozen cells in a cryogenic freezer is morally equivalent to a living, breathing, thinking, concious child, but I can't.

That's been obvious from the outset, but thanks for clarifying. By the way, if those few dozen cells were in, say, your wife's (or your own) uterus, would they then be morally equivalent to a living, breathing, thinking, conscious child? Or is it just the fact that they're in the freezer that makes those cells morally inferior?

By the way, remember that the percentage of fertilizations that actually get carried to term is actually somewhat low (the number I heard was that 1/6th of all pregnancies end in miscarriage).

No one has ever said that every product of fertilization is an embryo. And not every embryo is able to implant, whether it was created in a lab or met a sperm in mom's fallopian tube. It's abundantly clear that some fertilized eggs are not viable. There's a lot that can go wrong, which is the reason there are so many of those "spare" embryos in the freezers right now. So what?

If an embryo is on the same moral level as a human being, shouldn't mothers that allow embryos to pass through their uterus unimplanted be prosecuted for child neglect?

Again, I would've gone a different way with this. You're obviously educated and articulate. You know that women have no control over whether or not an embryo will implant (outside of having an IUD in place). Even outside of that, an embryo that fails to implant is by definition not viable. What is the point of this over-the-top rhetoric? It does nothing to advance the conversation.

Freeman Hunt said...

I propose that, by your logic, every person who has their own child while any child (or apparently embryo as well) is available for adoption is morally repugnant and should be jailed.

That does not in any way follow from Joan's logic. Regular conception and birth does not result in a bunch of frozen embryos bound for destruction. She said that people should adopt rather than create "excess" embryos.

If an embryo is on the same moral level as a human being, shouldn't mothers that allow embryos to pass through their uterus unimplanted be prosecuted for child neglect?

This too is daft. What does natural death have to do with purposeful killing?

If this new procedure works and doesn't destroy embryos, I think that's great.

MadisonMan said...

SWBarns: The Wisconsin Alum in me feels constrained to ask you to reverse your order, and put UW first and Johns Hopkins second :)

Sanjay said...

Hey all. For what it's worth I think I'm pretty on top of the science of this stuff. Maybe you'd think I'm not. But I am.

So, here's where I am getting hung up. What I'm reading is, this technique probably gets rid of the moral objection. Except some people might have issues since there could conceivably (not damn likely, in my opinion) be problems with the re-implanted embryo.

But, well, that's crap. The technique basically leverages something which, if it happens naturally, results in identical twins. So you effectively split the embryo into _two_ embryos, _both_ with the same potential, and then destroy one. Which is fine, if you're fine with embryonic stem-cell production, and is just as bad as before, if you're not (in fact it might in a sense be worse: this _is_ what the commenter was describing: the _creation_ of an embryo, really, for the sake of making stem cells).

So I'm a bit lost here. It seems to me that the point is to BS the people who object to this with terminology and levels of protocol, to hide that it's still, really, the same moral choice (he said, gingerly, without taking a stand on that moral choice). It seems to me that if you buy the idea that this is morally different either you're already 100% bought into the screw-it-at-this-point-it's-cells-in-a-dish view, or you're not clear on what's going on, which is perfectly understandable given the jargon in which it is clothed.

Sanjay said...

Or I guess my point is, Professor Althouse is just plain wrong (sorry! But it's true.) There's NOT a new issue, at least in terms of framing stem cell research. There's the same old issue and maybe a new way to sell (cell?) that there isn't. And I predict someone will be screaming it from the rooftops soon.

Tim Sisk said...

Freder: I'll concede that there may indeed be lots of private investment in embryonic research--I'm afar from my academic discipline and professional training (and interest, frankly, in researching it). But your statement "otherwise we wouldn't be hearing about it" is not evidence of it. Especially given that a better reason we "hear" about embryonic research is better explained by the lobbying for federal funding. Is there a web connected resource you could send us to that would buttress this claim?

To All: Does anyone have a response to my earlier statement: "...doesn't the fact that science seems to have come up with a way that gets around "destroying the embryo" validate "pro-lifers" very strong assertion that there other ways of doing the research without destroying embryos?" Or is the answer to that question only interesting to me?

Tim Sisk said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tim Sisk said...

Feder: My previous question was asked in good faith, not to score a debate point with you. I really do want to know if my perception of private funding is completely wrong.

John Lynch said...

Speaking from the point of view of the morally uneasy about stem cell research and federal funding, and perhaps as a part of the great unwashed that might feel similarly:

1) The promise of cures is wonderful, almost 'pornographic' as someone earlier stated.

2) It is only a promise.

3) My tax dollars should not be forcibly extracted and used in ways immoral. I realize I don't get to choose, and must go with the majority on this, but if I have a voice I will use it on issues objectionable.

4) Massive investments would create a market for more cells, more embryos, and would create a systemic way to find, create, and obtain them. Using my dollars is particularly objectionable.

5) The thought of not having to destroy the embryos is attractive, and perhaps a result of our moral issues about such destruction. Would this research have been done otherwise?

6) The wasted embryo argument is disingenuous. First, they themselves are a moral issue. Second, a market to use them would only engender forces to create more.

7) It seems possible to remove the moral issues through legislation if restricted behavior of creation for purposes of destruction, and inadvertent attendant waste is addressed.

8) Regardless of the well-meaning intentions of many, this issue is obfuscated because of the attendant politics.

There is nothing particularly luddite, or anti-science, in my reasoning. I am in scientific and technology fields. I am not particularly religious, but have not reached certainty on the beginning of life question. Therefore, there are ethical issues here, at least for me.

Gerry said...

"On one side, you have social conservatives who are trying to point up their dedication to the pro-life set of values. On the other side, you have those who oppose pro-lifers and have -- quite sensibly -- seen a big opportunity to amass public support by emphasizing the very widespread interest in finding cures for various diseases."

The social cons were arguing, quite sensibly IMO, that the destruction of human life, even in its most embryonic form, was an ethical jump we did not have to make, in part because there were other promising avenues, and that science would come up with other answers.

That is not to say that I did not find the countering argument sensible, though. I am assuming, Ann, you did not see the social conservative's argument as sensible. I come to this conclusion by your phrasing.

Believe it or not, social conservatives has a vested interest in finding cures for various diseases. We like life, ya know.

And maybe, just maybe, some of those who were claiming that destructive embryonic research was the only way were advancing a political agenda more than a scientific one. People do such things, on both sides of the aisle. It would be nice if they didn't, and it would be nice if people did not go along with it and thereby removed the incentive to do it.

Anyhow, it sounds like science may have solved the ethics problem. Great news, because it means progress towards cures. And great news because I was tired of my 'side' being demagogued on the issue.

Freder Frederson said...

Well, heres an article about a $1.25 million grant at the esteemed Ms. Althouse's own U of W. http://www.news.wisc.edu/packages/stemcells/10654.html and here is an article from that bastion of libertarianism, Reason, arguing that the researchers don't need no stinking federal money.
http://www.reason.com/links/links100305.shtml

Do links work on this site?

tcd said...

Joan says, "But you can't always get what you want." Don't you think that is a bit dismissive and glib? If that's your response to infertile couples, I guess I've misunderstood compassionate conservatism all these years.

Freder Frederson said...

Sheesh, I'm sorry everyone thinks I am here just to ridicule and belittle everyone. But if you just parrot half-truths, outright lies and Republican talking points, I am going to call you on it.

lay off the 'you're either ignorant or a liar' thing. You say that or something equivalent to somebody at least once on seemingly every thread - has it *ever* done anything except tick people off? It is in fact possible to disagree with you, even to make factually incorrect statements, without being either dishonest or willfully ignorant.

When Joan makes a statement "that human embryos are being created in a lab solely for the purpose of extracting their stem cells, and that they will then be discarded", that is more than a simple mistatement of fact; it is a viscious slander, fundamentally dishonest, and nothing but false propaganda spread by purveyors of smear tactics who have no regard for the truth. I can not and will not let it go unchallenged.

Her statement reveals her as either ignorant or a liar. She either believes these lies or knows they are lies and nevertheless repeats them. Either is inexcusable and I will not stand for it.

I will be and am civil to people who argue with facts or reasonably held opinions or are honestly mistaken in their facts--or even are prone to exaggeration or hyperbole (as I sometimes am). But I will jump on anyone who is just making shit up or unquestionably believes the lies of the likes of Rush Limbaugh

Eli Blake said...

Hey, this is good news.

Now granted, I never understood why anyone would object to using an embryo for research but not have a problem with chucking it into an incinerator when the couple whose embryo it is decide they don't want to pay the storage fee any longer.

But if this procedure gets around the foolish objections to what could be promising research raised by so-called 'prolifers' then hey, that works for me.

mikeyes said...

All the position taking and posturing in the above responses to Ann's original question of will it mike a difference in the debate show that this newer technique will not cause a political sea change.

While there are legitimate discussions (on top of all the point scoring and diatribes) about the issue, the political landscape will not change as any use of this announcement by both sides will not doubt be a distortion to serve specific political purposes.

But, what else is new?

Freder Frederson said...

That the number of embryos waiting to be discarded is comparatively miniscule

Oh come on, comparitively miniscule? There are about 400,000 embryos sitting in freezers right now, the vast majority of which will eventually be disposed of as medical waste. How many "snowflake babies" are there? Less than 200? That's not a practical solution.

And talk about morality. It seems to mean pro-lifers should be incensed that an entire industry has grown up that routinely aborts multiple (sometimes a dozen or more) children just to create one or two babies for usually well-off parents.

MadisonMan said...

The wasted embryo argument is disingenuous. First, they themselves are a moral issue. Second, a market to use them would only engender forces to create more.

I don't think it's a disingenuous agument at all. If a politician allows the creation of embryos, that politician also has to be concerned with their disposition if or when they are no longer needed. I rarely read of politicians opposed to embryonic stemcell research who are also sponsoring legislation to ban ivf. That seems more disingenuous to me. I'll repeat my sound bite: Would you vote for a politician who favors burning these embryos in a furnace rather than using them for a purpose that might benefit someone? That's what Doyle's opponent favors.

If the research pans out, it's great that no embryos will be destroyed -- by stem cell research, that is. Make no mistake though, the embryos will still be destroyed. It seems to me that if you are against stem-cell research for the reason that embryos are going to be destroyed, how can you not also be against the ivf that creates the embryos in the first place?

Pastor_Jeff said...

Freder,

You wrote: When Joan makes a statement "that human embryos are being created in a lab solely for the purpose of extracting their stem cells, and that they will then be discarded", that is more than a simple mistatement of fact; it is a viscious slander, fundamentally dishonest, and nothing but false propaganda spread by purveyors of smear tactics who have no regard for the truth.

What Joan described (Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer) is the basis for embryonic stem cell research. It is the creation of human embryos for the purpose of extracting stem cells for research. And the embryos are destroyed in the process.

Is your point that they aren't human? If so, why?

What is dishonest or slanderous about Joan's point?

John Lynch said...

There are degrees of morality involved.

I envy the freedom granted to those who have either answered for themselves the beginning of life question, or don't care.

If I had that answer, I could address this subject differently. Not knowing, I can only control my own behaviors and voice opinions. If I knew for certain that life begins at inception, then I would condemn others. Not knowing, I will only address my behaviors, and the forced use of my resources.

My tax dollars are not involved in fertility clinics. Those are funded by those who have reached their own decisions. Without sure knowledge, I cannot condemn them, but also without sure knowledge, I will not support them.

Those that have such freedoms are free to make their own choices. Forcing your choices on those of us who do not know exactly when life begins is a disservice.

Freder Frederson said...

What Joan described (Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer) is the basis for embryonic stem cell research. It is the creation of human embryos for the purpose of extracting stem cells for research. And the embryos are destroyed in the process.

I'll add you to my list then of the liars or ignorant. You are describing cloning techniques. Embryonic stem cell research involves the use of stem cells from human embryos that would otherwise be discarded. These embryos come from fertility clinics and were originally created to be implanted in a woman's uterus and carried to term. The couple who donates the embryos for research no longer need them because the treatment has been successful or other problems have been uncovered that make a pregnancy impossible. No embryos have ever been created in this country specifically for embryonic stem cell research (that disgraced researcher in S. Korea might have done it, but he was universally condemned). Even though it has never happened in this country, and there is no need for one, as there is an overabundance of embryos available, and it is considered highly unethical by the scientific community, there is now a law banning the practice.

I understand that many people consider a human embryo a human life. I do not agree with that assessment. Regardless, even if it is a human life, it is dishonest in the extreme, actually an outright lie, to say that human embryos are created for stem cell research.

MadisonMan said...

John, yes, I can accept that.

I personally don't understand how life can begin at conception, as I know too many identical twins.

I will say, though, that tax dollars almost certainly do indirectly support infertility clinics, either through medicare/medicaid payments for other functions at the clinic, or through tax breaks that helped the clinic be built in the first place. And, some fertility treatments are covered by state-funded health insurance -- paid by taxes, and medical expenses associated with fertility treatments may be tax deductible.

Palladian said...

"Believe it or not, social conservatives has a vested interest in finding cures for various diseases. We like life, ya know."

You just don't want anyone to enjoy it.

John Lynch said...

Man from Madison,

Well, way to ruin my day!

As earlier stated, I don't get to choose, only to go with our "represented" majority, and influence it as best I can.

Scott W. Somerville said...

I'm thrilled about this research, as a passionate pro-lifer, an amateur scientist, and as a political partisan.

It looks to me as if this COULD be a huge windfall for Republicans. Any politician who is really being "squeezed" on this issue can pin his Election Eve conversion on this new breakthrough. "I've always been consistent in my support for life-saving research and opposition to research that takes a human life. This new procedure satisfies my concerns." (Other politicians who aren't running right now, including the President, may want to wait and see on this one.)

This may save Senator Talent's bacon in Missouri. Missouri is a VERY pro-life state, and his support for stem-cell research hurt him. It might give Santorum a little more wiggle room in Pennsylvania, too. (He has just about closed a 23 point gap in the polls in the last month or so, and this doesn't hurt him.)

There will be a long-term impact on the GOP nomination for 2008. Bill Frist lost any real chance of getting the Republican nomination when he came out in favor of stem-cell research. If this (manufactured) wedge issue dematerializes, it helps him.

tcd said...

MM,

Can you cite some sources for your information about fertility clinics and tax dollar support? I happen to know a few couples going through fertility treatments and it ain't cheap, free or government funded. So if you can't cite any sources, then you are a vile liar!

Pastor_Jeff said...

I'll add you to my list then of the liars or ignorant.

Does that list include the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, whose "Drs. Eggan and Melton plan to use Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) to create disease specific hESC lines"?

Wow, Freder, you are smart! Be sure to tell Harvard they don't know what they're talking about.

Gerry said...

"You just don't want anyone to enjoy it."

Snarky, but inaccurate.

gbdub said...

I need to remember that irony is lost on forum posts. For those that are still reading this far down, and weren't able to figure it out, I was intentionally over the top (I think one of you said 'daft') in a couple of the points of my last post. Therefore I intentionally took to a level of rhetoric I generally try to avoid.

No I don't actually believe that Joan would require the jailing of miscarrying mothers or fertile couples who didn't adopt.

My point, such as it was, was that Joan had exaggerated my comments into suggesting that I didn't consider adoption an option, and that by warping her arguments I could make her sound entirely as ridiculous.

Generally, I don't agree with the absolutist view that 'life begins at conception' and therefore embryos are equivalent to born and breathing humans. I don't consider the incineration of 1000 embryos to be equivalent to the massacre of 1000 people from, say, Cleveland. And if it really came down to it, I don't think you would either. One of those hypotheticals is appropriate here: Can you honestly say that you'd rather put a bullet through someone's head than incinerate 100 day old embryos? What about 10? 1 embryo? I can't honestly say that I would, and again I doubt you would either. Do you even believe that IVF doctors should be put in prison for mass murder? If you truly believe that embryos are exactly equivalent to life, then these positions make sense. But maybe you do hold to that degree of absolutism, and I can respect that, so long as you oppose IVF as much as embryonic research, which you apparently do.

This is of course back to a somewhat 'over the top' rhetoric style, and for that I apologize, but you really do have to consider the moral implications of the fact that the destruction of these embryos could in fact result in the saving of lives (or the production of new lives through IVF). And in facing that moral implication, you must consider how deep your committment to 'embryos are life' really runs.

Don't read me wrong and presume I think embryos have no worth at all. I do, I just wouldn't sacrifice my sister to save two embryos, even if they were in my (non-existant) wife. They are potential life, and therefore deserve a level of respect. However, if it takes 100 embryos to produce a viable child, I still see the creation of that child as a good thing and not a moral travesty. If it takes 10000 embryos to make enough stem cells to cure Alzheimer's, I again see that cure as a good thing. I hardly believe it's selfish, either by the parents or the doctors, to use technology to bring the joy of parenthood to otherwise infertile couples. Your mileage clearly varies.

And no, I suppose 'right to reproduce' was the wrong phrase. However, my point about the desire to reproduce stands. You say that you have children - are they adopted? If not, and yet you feel so strongly about this issue, why not? I'm sure you have very good reasons that I can agree with for this. I'm sure your kids have brought a lot of joy to your life. So why would you deny this joy to someone else, just because it's expensive?

Also, you support 'snowflake baby' programs - yet wouldn't 'adopting an embryo' pose the same moral hazard as standard IVF? I doubt these adopted embryos are viable at a rate any higher than typical implantation attempts, so obviously many of these embryos would ultimately be destroyed.

At that point, how is saying, 'let's take these embryos, put them in women, and hope a few produce viable life' any different from saying 'let's take these embryos and use their cells to save other lives'. In both cases, you are recognizing that most of these frozen embryos are doomed to inviability, and attempting to gain a benefit from them rather than simply throwing them out. Why is the 'snowflake baby' approach morally superior?

But this is not really addressing the point of this thread I suppose. I think the new findings could be a good thing, but I haven't heard anyone's thoughts on my initial point that the end result of this will probably be scientists just using IVF embryos to extract a couple cells only, to comply with the new method, and then the rest getting thrown out. And I *really* can't see a moral distinction there.

Eli Blake said...

Corporate Law Drudge (7:52 AM)

Whether the religious right can resist looking this horse in the mouth remans to be seen

Well, it's just like the 'morning after pill' was OK'd today for over the counter sales. That will put a lot of abortion clinics out of business.

Now, I think there is no downside to something which will prevent so many unwanted pregnancies, yet the right seems to be unhappy about this. Maybe they'd rather the abortion clincs stay open so they can have someplace to picket.

JDM said...

gbdub said:

"One of those hypotheticals is appropriate here: Can you honestly say that you'd rather put a bullet through someone's head than incinerate 100 day old embryos?"

Well, depends who the someone is, doesn't it? Hitler, Stalin, Napolean, a crazy guy with a big axe. If its my sainted mother, perhaps a bit less likely.

What you are doing is making a rhetorical point based on human tribal behaviour and anthropomorphism. Sure, easier to burn 100 test tubes than shoot a fully developed human standing in front of me.

What about throwing 100 newborn premature babies on a fire or shooting a mass murderer? (full disclosure, I was premature and adopted, so I have a particular point of view on this based on sheer self interest).

There is of course the possible answer to your question there is no good answer. Who would you rather shoot, your spouse or your sibling?

Pastor_Jeff said...

Maybe they'd rather the abortion clincs stay open so they can have someplace to picket.

You know, it's always easier and more self-satisfying to assume your opponents are stupid, evil, and/or dishonest.

But it's seldom correct.

gbdub said...

JDM,

As I said, that particular hypothetical is a little over the top. But the point is that there is in fact a moral dilemma that you have to strongly consider, because the moral question surrounding embryonic research is that there is a very real chance that, by sacrificing (or perhaps not, based on the new research) embryos, you can save lives. Is that morally acceptable? Is it morally acceptable to *not* do it?

I wouldn't toss the premature babies on the fire, but then the crux of that is that I make a distinction between a premature baby and a blastocyst. Maybe you don't, and that can be a defensible position. I just question how many people would actually, in life or death practice, be willing to put a blastocyst on the same level as a human being or a premature baby for that matter.

So we throw around rhetoric, but we really are discussing life or death reality. If it turns out that stem cell treatments can save lives, but that embryos must be destroyed to allow the treatments to occur - a very possible reality in, say, 15 years time, we *will* have to make the choice between killing a, say, 30 something mother of 3, and a human blastocyst. When we come to that point, how many can honestly say they'd vote for the life of the blastocyst in the freezer?

As for shooting my (again, hypothetical) spouse vs. my sibling, that would be a difficult decision. But my point is that, while that decision would be difficult, sibling vs. blastocyst would not.

The rest of your argument has an interesting point - we do already make distinctions between the value of one life over another. Most would be willing to kill a murderer attacking their family, or certainly would shed few tears if a police sniper got them. I think all of us do this to some extent or another. That's part of why I find it impossible to take the morally absolute position (every destruction of every embryo is equal to the murder of 1 living human) in this debate.

Joan said...

Why is the 'snowflake baby' approach morally superior?

Because then at least some of the embryos have a chance at life. Under your "use'em for research" scenario, they all die.

Is it morally acceptable to kill embryos on the promise of future potential benefits? No, it's not, and the fact that many benefits have already been identified from non-embryonic stem cells, with more posited as each month goes by, means that there is no morally justifiable reason to pursue embryonic stem cell research. There are plenty of non-lethal methods available for harvesting stem cells, and we've nowhere near exhausted the potential of those types.

Would I rather kill 100 embryos or one living human being? In what kind of science fiction world would we ever run across a scenario like that? We're nowhere near having the scientific ability to put us into that kind of moral dilemma. Right now using embryos as stem-cell farms contributes to basic research, but that research is uncovering many problems as well as possible future benefits. It's neither funny nor remarkable how advocates of hESC research (thanks for that acronym, Pastor) never mention the problems associated with the uncontrollable nature and unpredictability of hESC. It's par for the course.

MadisonMan said...

My assumption was that clinics can open in a new development that has been partially supported by TIFs. That was my meaning. Is this actually done? I'm not sure.

DNR Mom said...

The US Catholic church spokesperson on the "News Hour" tonight reassured us that the (religious) political dispute remains insoluble. Exactly what HAS god wrought?

Palladian said...

"Is it morally acceptable to kill embryos on the promise of future potential benefits? No, it's not..."

Based on what moral system? Or are you, as the left is so often justifiably accused, creating policy (and moral systems) from emotionalism? If you're an absolutist about human life, I'm curious if you support the death penalty, or the war in Iraq, both funded by public money? I happen to generally support all of the above, but I'm curious by what method one might be able to pick and choose which life (and potential life) to get upset about? The same so-called moral absolutism that posits that all war is wrong, regardless of the potential benefits to millions of citizens must be the same as one that would rather destroy embryos than benefit from them; yet strangely things don't play out that way. I'm certainly sensitive to moral objections, but I don't see any moral system being consistently applied, and I honestly don't know how our government, which is enjoined from subscribing to any particular religious philosophy, can make logical, reasoned decisions about moral questions of this nature. On what is our public ethical system based?

Johnny Nucleo said...

In the big left/right war one of the big questions is the quesion of "life."

What is life? Why is it important?

Money!

Not really.

But let's talk about money. How much money are we talking about?

This whole thing is about federal funding, right? So how much federal funding should there be?

A zillion dollars? Would that be enough? What if we got the zillion dollars from someplace else? Would that be cool?

Do you want to live forever? Of course you do! We all want to live forever. So let's invest in this stuff!

Problem solved!

Joan said...

Palladian, I'm Catholic. As a Catholic, I believe all life should be respected, and innocent life especially protected. Embryos are the epitome of innocent life.

I also ascribe to the "Just War" philosophy; I support the war in Iraq, and I support Israel's actions in the latest dust-up with Hezbollah. There are considerable arguments among the faithful as to whether or not the war in Iraq qualifies as a "just war" or not, but I know I'm not alone in believing that it does. For the curious, the Vatican's disapproval of the war is not an area where the infallibility of the Pope applies; we're allowed to disagree.

I also believe there are times, rare though they may be, when the death penalty is both warranted and justifiable.

Perhaps this seems inconsistent to you, but minds much greater than mine have been puzzling out these questions for centuries, for which I'm very appreciative.

As to where our public sense of ethics originates, you've got me on that one. I'd have to say is the cumulative Judeo-Christian mores that have permeated the culture but are now starting to give way to much more indulgent tendencies. For this particular issue, I believe the president is briefed by a council of bio-ethicists, but I'm not sure where I heard that.

Oh, yeah, Johnny: I can't imagine a worse torment than immortality.

Chum said...

Pastor Jeff said;

Re (Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer)
'It is the creation of human embryos for the purpose of extracting stem cells for research'

Nope, you've got it arse backwards. The research isn't to create human embryos, it is to create 'new human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines' FROM frozen human embryos. The Harvard Stem Cell Institute obtained excess frozen embryos from IVF patients who have chosen to donate them for research.

Freder Frederson said...

I also ascribe to the "Just War" philosophy; I support the war in Iraq, and I support Israel's actions in the latest dust-up with Hezbollah. There are considerable arguments among the faithful as to whether or not the war in Iraq qualifies as a "just war" or not, but I know I'm not alone in believing that it does. For the curious, the Vatican's disapproval of the war is not an area where the infallibility of the Pope applies; we're allowed to disagree.

Joan, you just keep displaying how dishonest you are. You could have said you don't ascribe to the just war philosophy, but don't claim to ascribe to the just war philosophy and say that you support the war in Iraq. There is no way that the initial invasion of Iraq came close to being justified under the Catholic Church's just war doctrine. For you to claim that there is a legitimate debate among Catholics about the legitimacy of the Iraq War, based on Catholic just war principles, displays your and your fellow Catholics ignorance of your own denomination's doctrine.

The Iraq war (and I am talking about the initial invasion of March, 2003), was of questionable legality under international law (although we claimed it was a preemptive war, which is legal, there are strong arguments that the war was prevetative, which is illegal), not to mention that it was of questionable legality and constitutionality under U.S. law (there was no declaration of war). To argue that the war was a "just war" is completely ridiculous.

Joan said...

Freder, it's a poor tactic to insist on the dishonesty of your debate opponents. If you think I'm arguing in bad faith, why bother to respond at all? My impression is that you are not as well-versed in the Just War doctrine as you seem to think you are, and that you are wholly ignorant of the debate about the war in the Catholic community. You must be, to make the statement you just made.

I know that the issue is debated among Catholics because I have participated in such debates, and I have not been the only one holding this view. We can justify the Iraq war based solely on the fact that Saddam was grieviously abusing his population, and was flagrantly in violation of the stipulations that were made at the end of the first gulf war. Iraq was constantly shooting at planes, giving UN inspectors the run around, and arbitrarily torturing and executing its own people. And that ignores completely the UN Oil for Food Scandal, which is possibly the biggest fraud ever perpetrated, but was only uncovered after the war and so could not be used beforehand to justify it. I'm just glad it has been exposed.

Regarding the legality of the war, the international basis was U.N. resolution 1441, which you will recall was unanimously approved. Or did you think that "serious consequences" meant that yet-another-resolution, destined to also be ignored, would be drafted, debated, and passed?

For national approval, if the war is illegal, what was it then that John Kerry voted for before he voted against it? Oh, yeah, it was that silly Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002.

Smilin' Jack said...

Joan said...
Palladian, I'm Catholic. As a Catholic, I believe all life should be respected, and innocent life especially protected. Embryos are the epitome of innocent life.


You need to brush up on your catechism. Google "catholic doctrine original sin"

Oh, yeah, Johnny: I can't imagine a worse torment than immortality.

Well, that's what God has in store for you. Google "catholic doctrine immortal soul"

gbdub said...

Joan,

I too supported the invasion of Iraq (and still do, though I wish it had been better executed). However, despite our belief that the war was 'just', it is undeniable that a not insignificant number of innocent people, on both sides, have been killed during the conflict. So how do we reconcile it as just given the loss of innocent life? Well, we believe that ultimately, the benefit to the world of eliminating the Iraqi regime outweighs the injustice of innocent death.

However, this is clearly a morally subjective judgement - a large number of rational people have reached precisely the opposite conclusion. If you truly subscribe to the view that protection of innocent life is paramount, than the Iraq war (or any war that resulted in innocent casualties) would be unjustifiable.

But clearly you support the war, so you ARE willing to say that the loss of innocent life can be justified by the creation of some greater societal good.

How then is embryonic research unjustifiable? If it is truly believed that such research can save lives in the future, and that is my belief, then how is this any different from saying that innocent deaths in Iraq can prevent a larger tragedy in the future? Are innocent Iraqis somehow less valuable than innocent blastocysts? In pure Catholic doctrine, I'd say not - by Miltonian dogma, the embryos' souls, stained by Original Sin and unwashed by the sacrement of baptism, would spend eternity in Limbo, the first circle of Hell, suffering without the light of God. Presumably, at least some of the Iraqi civilians killed were Christians, and therefore would have been worthy of Salvation - so in that regard they would be 'more' innocent than the embryos.

Of course, perhaps your argument is that embryonic research is unjustified because the potential benefits are not great enough. But then our debate is pragmatic rather than moralistic.

Also, it's not fair to dodge my hypothetical simply by saying 'well that situation isn't here yet'. The fact remains that there is a non zero chance that that situation will be here, and sooner than you think. It's entirely possible that there will be a day when there is a choice between destroying an embryo and letting an otherwise innocent human being die. Even if that day never comes, even if all the benefits of stem cells can be realized without it, I'm still curious what you would do in such a situation, if for no other reason than to better understand precisely where you're coming from - say it's a 38 year old mother of 3 vs. 2 embryos - what do you do, and why?

gbdub said...

Also, to respond to Joan's comment regarding the morality of snowflake babies vs. embryonic research:

You claim that the 'adopt an embryo' programs are justifiable, even though they result in the loss of a significant number of those embryos, because at least some are given the chance to live. However, consider that, through stem cell research, it may eventually become possible to directly save lives with embryonic stem cells. That is to say, the embryos will still be producing life.

At the point where you can preserve the same amount of life through embryo adoption and through stem cell extraction (and obviously we're not there yet, but it's possible), even though both will result in the destruction of a similar number of embryos in the process, why is one justifiable and the other not?

In both cases, you are sacrificing a large number of embryos to preserve other lives (either the life of the embryo that successfully implants or the life of another living human). What's the moral distinction?

Joan said...

It has been a long day of travel for me, but I didn't want you to think that I had bailed on this conversation.

Smilin' Jack, googling Catholic doctrine is most likely giving you "answers" that are only fractions of the truth. Current doctrine says that unbaptized babies who die are in a state of perfect happiness in their "baby limbo", and they will be united with God at the end of time. They are still innocent of personal sin, even though their souls bear the mark of Original Sin. Original Sin is a state of separation from God, being withheld from grace. To say that embryos or aborted babies are not innocent because they are not baptized is simply incorrect.

Regarding immortality, I was assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that the "live forever" idea meant to continue to exist forever in the bodies we now possess. Surely you recognize the difference between that (a dreadful idea, to me), and having an immortal soul. Catholic doctrine teaches the resurrection of the body, but to say the resurrected body will be exactly the one I have now is, again, incorrect.

Regarding justifying the Iraq war: I believe that we have saved innocent lives by taking Saddam Hussein out of there. If we had done nothing, many more Iraqis would have died under his brutal regime. More Israelis would have died via the Palestinian suicide bombers that Saddam sponsored. Many, many more in other countries would have died in attacks from the terrorists that trained in Iraq at Samon Pak and in the other training camps. You can't ignore that half of the equation, look at only at the civilian casualties that have resulted from US actions, and say "It's not worth it."

Regarding the hypothetical you set up, I will continue to dodge it, fair or no. Life's not fair, after all. You seem to think that the payoff from hESC research is just around the corner. I found Dean Barnett's post on this topic instructive: those miracles are further away than you think.

The bottom line remains, it is unethical to kill one person to save another. Like it or not, embryos are unique human individuals,genetically speaking. Even if you won't go any further than that, you have to acknowledge that fertilization creates a unique human.

The way you talk about this, I don't think you understand very well how stem cells are created and harvested. It's not as if you have to extract stem cells from 100 embryos so you have enough for a particular treatment (although that is kind of what happened in the episode of South Park dealing with embryonic stem cell research, which was both grotesque, and of course hysterical.) These things are tricksy enough as it is, they can't be introducing cells from random embryos. They have to do trials on one particular line of cells which I believe are cloned cells from a single embryo donor. I'm not exactly sure but I can't imagine how they could do robust research if they were constantly using cells from different embryos. There's simply too much variation that results would be impossible to interpret.

Last, if you can't tell the difference between living your own life and sacrificing it so that someone else might live, you've got blinders on that I will never be able to remove. You could make that decision, and under certain circumstances it would be morally correct. It is never morally correct to decide to sacrifice someone else so that another can live. We can't know how many frozen embryos would implant and be born. But we should at least give them a chance.

Russ said...

I really don’t think we need to look any further than the smoking debate to show where this can lead.

The anti smoking campaign started with just a small section of commercial aircraft 25 years ago and now has become so all encompassing that one cannot light up in public parks, or in some cases on their own back porch.

How long will it take for us to progress from killing unneeded in vitro children to unwanted live births, because their cells offer a greater chance for a cure than fetal stem cells? 25 years isn’t that long a time, and as has been pointed out, this debate is only a few years old itself.

All it takes is one step on the slippery slope to make the bottom more possible.

I agree it is a tragedy that there are so many in vitro embryos available, yet I wonder how many of their parents have given permission for them to be killed in the name of science, or have only signed waivers to allow the clinic to dispose of the extra embryos after a successful live birth? Would they have started the process had they known the final disposition of the embryos left behind, ones that had as much chance as the embryo they are raising to become an adult?

Dr Mengle is a specter in the background here, like it or not. Once we can justify the ending of any innocent human life for the benefit of another we have taken the first steps down his road.

His basis for experimentation on children was the determination that they were not exactly human, based on their heritage, just as one time in this country we determined that an individual was only 3/5th of a person because one of their great-grandparents was of African descent. Here we are determining the humanity of an individual based solely on their age since conception. Why is that any less onerous?

I for one refuse to be an enabler, and feel we need humanist and moral restrictions placed on some research, and to declare that one person’s quality of life is no important than the life of an embryo is not the way to start, but a road to Hell, paved with good intentions.

As far as the argument that the loss of an innocent life during war is a similar loss we have one big difference; in war innocent life is lost as collateral damage, not as the aim. The taking of an innocent life when the aim IS the taking of that life is an entirely different scenario.

I also have no problem determining when life begins; the minute the 32 chromosomes of the sperm join with the 32 chromosomes of the egg and divides we have a new human life that has never existed before. If this life ends in 24 hours because it fails to attach to the uterine wall, or ends in 90 years on a bed surrounded by their loved ones, this is a unique individual. We need a bright line to determine when a new life begins, one that cannot become variable, and I can’t see a better one.

Birth can be variable, and children even as much as three months premature can survive. Any date during gestation can be moved as well; just what is the difference between a 190 day old embryo and a 189 day old one? 189 and 188? How about 44 days since conception and 43? Yet the joining of sperm and egg is definite, definable and delineated.

What to do with frozen embryos is an issue, one that is only about 25 years old as well, and I feel we need to have some logical rules to regulate the artificial creation of life. Exactly what rules I don’t know, but we need to protect the innocent lives created in a lab. The chances of these embryos growing are slim, as we know, but I agree with Joan; they still deserve a chance to try.

Freder Frederson said...

As far as the argument that the loss of an innocent life during war is a similar loss we have one big difference; in war innocent life is lost as collateral damage, not as the aim. The taking of an innocent life when the aim IS the taking of that life is an entirely different scenario.

But not really, in modern warfare, the loss of innocent life is unavoidable, predictable, and certain. Whether or not you call it "collateral damage" or claim it is not the aim, it is still the inevitable outcome of launching a war. That is why just war doctrine sets incredibly high hurdles for a war that is not purely defensive in nature or is not meant to prevent a far greater evil (like ongoing, not past acts of or even anticipated, genocide). Also, even launching a war against an Army of conscripts raises serious ethical questions since it can hardly be said that the enemy is voluntarily participating in the war.

Russ said...

That is why just war doctrine sets incredibly high hurdles for a war that is not purely defensive in nature or is not meant to prevent a far greater evil (like ongoing, not past acts of or even anticipated, genocide).

So had Hitler been able to complete his 'Final Solution' before D-Day the invasion would no longer have been justified, since his genocide would have been in the past?

This is getting way off topic, but it appears your nationality is Democrat, not American, and unless some one you personally voted for has initiated the conflict, then it is illegal and a sham.

The war in Iraq is justified; the coalition forces are using every possible method to avoid the loss on any innocent life, yet our opponents are taking every advantage to target them. If a Clinton (Bill or, God Forbid, Hillary) had sent these troops in harm's way this argument would no doubt have a completely different spin.

SWBarns said...

More news on the Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) publication. It seems that they overstated their findings and their study did in fact destroy the embryos that they used. ACT removed multiple cells from each embryo; however this does not necessarily negate their finding. Their study has shown that cells may be removed from embryos and stem cells may be cultured from those cells. Another research group should, and almost certainly will, build on ACT’s findings to prove or disprove that donor embryonic cells can form new stem cell lines.

See for example http://healthnewsdigest.com/news/article_4362.shtml:

While the experiment showed that it is theoretically possible to grow embryonic-stem-cell lines and still preserve the embryos, Lanza failed to prove this. He needed so many individual cells (total: 91) to create his lines that multiple cells had to be pulled from each of the embryos; in the end, all 16 were destroyed. Lanza says that single-cell extraction has been proved effective through PGD (embryos subjected to the loss of a cell have developed into healthy babies); more important, he says, he has shown that single cells can develop into embryonic-stem-cell lines. )