Wednesday, July 19, 2006


"Why don't we embrace what is working and has no ethical problems?"
-Senator Brownback (R-KA)

Unborn BabyThe President of the United States has the power to veto any legislation that congress offers him, who then in turn may vote again on the bill. With a 2/3rds majority, congress can override this veto and make the bill law over the President's objections. President Bush has not vetoed a bill since he took office in January of 2001, although he has opposed several he's been sent.

Why he has not done so is a matter of some speculation, although I suspect it has to do with his strong understanding of the separation of powers in the US Government. Each branch of the US Government is equally powerful and sovereign in their area (legislation in congress, for example), and I believe President Bush thinks that a veto should only be used in the most egregious examples of moral or legal corruption.

With the recent Stem Cell research bill passing both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the bill should reach President Bush today. He has promised to veto that bill:
"I made [it] very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life, I'm against that," Bush told reporters. "Therefore if the bill does that, I will veto it."
What is this bill that has the President finally reaching for his dusty, cobwebbed Veto stamp? It is a bill that issues federal funding for stem cell research. The federal government already funds stem cell research, but since 2001 has not funded any research using embryonic stem cells. Congress is offering a bill that extends funding for that sort as well.

Some Congressmen are pleading with the President to sign this bill and put it into law - likely aware that they have not the votes to overrule his veto at this point.
"Please, Mr. President, don't veto this bill," said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., noting that his family has a history of Parkinson's disease. "Such a veto, I fear, may only throw out hope, healing and human life along with the unused embryos."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said scientists think stem cells offer the possibility to treat myriad diseases and disabilities, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, strokes, diabetes, spinal-cord injuries and osteoarthritis.

"I see no reason why embryonic stem-cell research should be treated any differently than other research," Wyden said. "Without expanding the research beyond the bounds of current policy, people will never know what might have been."

So what is stem cell research, and why such claims? Stem cells are specialized cells that help with healing and growth in the body. They act as a sort of latticework or framework for other cells to grow around, such as to heal a broken bone. Research with these cells is intended to find out why and how they work so that greater healing can be achieved to cure some diseases and regenerate tissue.

Scientists hope and postulate that such research could cure diseases such as Parkinson's by regrowing nerve cells, regenerate lost fingers or even limbs, and even stop or reverse ageing. At present, there have been successful treatments using stem cells, such as a treatment that recovers hearing loss, generates cells for the production of insulin for diabetics, reverses kidney failure, and reversal of crippling paralysis, various neural diseases such as polyneuropathy, lupus, and multiple sclerosis all show improvement. So why veto the bill?

1) Because the bill funds embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cell research "harvests" frozen embryos by killing the cells and taking the stem cells from them. President Bush accurately considers this horrific because in order to research to aid the living, it requires killing someone else. Consider this quote from Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA):

He described a conversation he had with his conservative colleague Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

"He said his concern was the question of when life began," Specter said Tuesday. "I told him my concern was when life ended."

The problem here is a concern for health and extended life at the expense of the helpless and innocent. Without a clear legal and scientific definition of when human life begins - which we lack at present (although I'd argue it's obvious that these cells are human, and alive) - then we must follow the dictates of morality. I sympathize with Senator Specter in his battle with cancer and understand his desire for a cure, but not at the expense of another's life.

It is the depth of horror and the subject of many sci fi stories to kill the living in order to make rich adults and elderly more comfortable and live longer. The term I use is "necromancy."

2) Because all those successful treatments from stem cell research I listed have been from adult stem cells. These are very plentiful and available from such odd sources as the ears and nose of donors and especially the umbilical cord. Given that thousands of babies are born each day in the USA alone, this is a very plentiful and cheap source of stem cells. Such research does not require the death of anyone and has been successful and very promising.

4) Because embryonic stem cell research has been not only a failure thus far in almost all cases, but actually damaging and destructive to the people it has been tried on. For example, while researchers have successfully produced insulin-secreting cells with embryonic stem cell research, the result is not transplantable because they don't have a tissue match for the patient. Further, the embryonic results often cause tumors and cancer in the patients, and in at least once case caused uncontrollable seizures. The cells grow out of control and in areas the research does not intend. No viable therapy has been generated from embryonic stem cell research. Dozens have been generated by adult stem cell research. Embryonic stem cell research characteristically results in the growth of tumors and other unpleasant side effects.

5) Because Japanese researchers have discovered that adult stem cells can be as effective as embryonic stem cells, a story that skated past the press and most people's awareness. These doctors used mouse stem cells (from the tip of their tail):
The ES [Embryonic Stem cell] -like cells the group produced with the four introduced genes seemed to have almost all the key properties of ES cells derived from embryos. They formed several kinds of tissue in the culture dish and produced tumors called teratomas when they were injected under the skin of immune-compromised mice--both classic characteristics of ES cells.
Researchers at Tufts University came to the same conclusion, saying that they believe they have discovered an adult stem cell that has the same potential as embryonic stem cells. The head of the research team said "I think embryonic stem cells are going to fade in the rearview mirror of adult stem cells." In any case, stem cells from the placenta - again present in every birth in the world - are also considered adequate replacement for embryonic stem cells.

6) Because the federal government has no constitutional authority or power to fund any kind of stem cell research, no matter how nice it might be. The US Constitution is very clear on what the government may and may not tax people for and spend money on, and the 10th amendment makes it very clear that anything not listed is forbidden for the government to engage in. Funding medical research is not one of those things.

7) Because even were it constitutional and not either a failure or a ghastly moral violation, embryonic stem cell research is being done by thousands of companies worldwide without the requirement of the US government's - your - money. The common complaint about pharmaceutical corporations is that they are grossly wealthy and overcharge for their product, that they are greedy and price-gouging. If they have these vast sums of money, why do they need your tax dollars to do the research? If companies and research labs around the world are already doing this work why do they need your tax dollars to do it?

Snowflake BabiesIt's wrong, it's a failure, its unnecessary, and yet some persist in strident, often insulting calls for this funding. So why on earth would anyone anywhere want this? Because embryonic stem cells show incredible powers of healing and growth. They are what scientists believe allow a newborn baby to heal rapidly from harm and even regrow a joint lost from a finger or toe in some cases. They believe this is what makes a fertilized egg grow into a newborn baby in a short 9 months. So they want to tap into this immense growth and healing power to see what it can result in for adult humans.

The original claim was the Embryonic Stem Cells lasted forever in storage while adult stem cells did not. This has been demonstrated to be inaccurate (ES don't last forever, according to this report), and even were this true, the source of embryonic stem cells is dwarfed by several magnitudes by the sources of adult stem cells. Researchers have ideas and dreams and need money to test these theories out. They can get money from private research, but the government is an almost endless source, and they want at that vast sea of taxpayer dollars. So they push for their personal agenda.

And I am fine with that, I respect the desire. Just don't do it at the expense of helpless, innocent human life. Murdering babies to make adults feel better or live longer is one of the most evil things I can imagine.

The worst part is the gross and often willful ignorance in regard to this debate. Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, constantly acts as if not only has President Bush banned stem cell research but that embryonic stem cell research is the only kind that exists. You will read again and again that the President "banned stem cell research" from people who know better but will say that because it sounds better and makes him look like an anti-science clod. You will see people claim that the president banned embryonic stem cell research, when he did no such thing, he simply banned federal funding for such research. Even though President Bush no doubt would like to ban all such research he does not have that power.

That's why I wrote this long entry this morning. Because of the misinformation, ignorance, and deliberate lying that goes on about this topic.

MengeleDr. Michael Gazzaniga in the New York Times called an early cloned embryo just a “hunk of cells,” and said that human dignity resides in a “lifetime of experiences and discovery.” Thus, according to this fellow, the older you are, the more worth you have - and an unborn or just born human is nearly or completely worthless? This is the kind of "reasoning" that led Dr Josef Mengele to his research which while it revealed a great deal of useful scientific information was judged so ghastly and immoral that it was sealed and never used.

Most of the people backing embryonic stem cell research and its federal funding are pro-abortion, they consider an unborn baby at most subhuman and unworthy of the considerations we give fully born humans. For them, a magical transformation occurs when the baby exits the mother.

Jacki Rabon from a wheelchair in the US Senate gave a speech to the assembled body about adult stem cell research that is helping her and has been so effective. In this speech she talked about the dehumanizing of someone for the convenience or advantage of another:
At one point in time, we have all started out as an embryo. Whether you are Sam Brownback, the Presiding Officer, or anybody in this room, we all started out being a human embryo. We didn't start another way. If you destroy us at the earliest stage, you never end up with us at this stage. That is a basic fundamental of the argument.

It is an old, old, old debate for human societies. We have had this debate. Typically, in fighting around the world, people try to dehumanize the other side.

I remember watching a film on Rwanda, "Hotel Rwanda,'' about the Rwandan genocide. I was just in Rwanda last year and in the Holocaust Museum. The one side persecuting the other side, killing nearly 800,000 in 3 weeks, in the very typical fashion of human beings demonizing the other side and calling them less than human, they were subhuman--they were roaches is what they actually referred to them as.
I agree with Senator Brownback. Let's focus on what does work, and has no ethical horrors attached. How could anyone in good conscience possibly argue with that?

*UPDATE: President Bush vetoed the bill. Now congress has to decide if in the coming months they want to try to overrule this veto.
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President Friedman said...

I support President Bush vetoing this bill. Aside from the considerable ethical issues (and those are plenty strong enough for me to oppose embryonic stem cell research at any level), the medical research community already enjoys the use of way too many government dollars. I'm one of the more libertarian free-marketers you will find, but I think it is outrageous that drug companies charge so much for their product when so much of their research is funded by public universities and NIH grants (NIH foots the bill for around 30% of medical research in the US, and the major pharma companies get free access to every last bit of it).

I just wish economic issues were half as important to President Bush as ethical ones seems to be.

Anna Venger said...

There are serious ethical considerations when it comes to the embryonic stem cells. Good for President Bush for finally vetoing something.

adolfo velasquez said...

This has got to be the most complete, well-documented post I've seen yet on embryonic stem cells.

Thank you.

Christopher Taylor said...

Thanks Adolpho, I was really trying to write something that would cover all the bases. I like doing this kind of post because I learn every time I do one :)

Jerri Lynn Ward, J.D. said...

Great post! Medical and bio-ethics are degrading. We need more writing like this to counter that.

Anwyn said...

Just discovered your blog through Ace. This is a great piece on a subject that seems to be an electrified rail--none of the conservative blogs I read touched it this week, for sure. Good for you.

"It's obvious that they're human and alive." Ding ding!! The phrase "unused emybryos" as used by Smith of Oregon is infuriating (growing babies should not be "used" for anything!) and points to the top of the slippery slope that led us here, to the middle of it: fertility procedures with more zeal than ethics that create these "extra" embryos--extra people!--and then it's viewed as some kind of humanitarian act when their parents--!!--"give permission for them to be used in science" (paraphrased from an editorial in Wednesday's USA Today).

Any parent should know better. Any human being born of a parent should know better. Thanks for addressing this.

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