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Obama Removes Stem Cell Barriers.

In a good move today, President Obama removed Bush Administration barriers to some forms of stem cell research [funding]. Executive Order of March 9, 2009:

Sec. 1: . . . For the past 8 years, the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to fund and conduct human embryonic stem cell research has been limited by Presidential actions. The purpose of this order is to remove these limitations on scientific inquiry, to expand NIH support for the exploration of human stem cell research, and in so doing to enhance the contribution of America's scientists to important new discoveries and new therapies for the benefit of humankind.

Sec. 2. Research. The Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary), through the Director of NIH, may support and conduct responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, to the extent permitted by law.

Sec. 3. Guidance. Within 120 days from the date of this order, the Secretary, through the Director of NIH, shall review existing NIH guidance and other widely recognized guidelines on human stem cell research, including provisions establishing appropriate safeguards, and issue new NIH guidance on such research that is consistent with this order.

Behind Obama at the signing was a group of distinguished scientists, including my wife's mentor, Janet Rowley of the University of Chicago.

Obama gave an eloquent little speech about basing policy on science and facts. I am happy to see this remnant of what has been called the "Republican war on science" fall by the wayside. I wish he would take on the war on science being waged by many mainstream scientists (and their political acolytes) in the climate field. If scientific standards were higher in that field, I doubt that Obama would now be proposing to saddle American business with a trillion or two dollars in carbon emission restrictions and offsets when we can least afford it.

Obama should start by requiring — AND ENFORCING — federal rules and norms for prompt, effective data archiving on federally funded projects. The stakes are too high to allow climate science to pass without checking.

UPDATE: Here is "Reason as Our Guide," the dissent filed by Janet Rowley and Elizabeth Blackburn to the Kass Committee Report on Stem Cell Research.

Brian G (mail) (www):
2 things: I a skeptical about government involvement to such a degree. I would like to know what, if any, monies the private sector is putting into this research. If there is hope for this research and the private sector needs financial help because the costs are just so high, I can understand government involvement. However, I have yet to see any evidence of any progress. If I missed something, I am sure the VC community will set me straight forthwith.

Second, I am sickened to hear the paralyzed people on the news talking as if they will be walking again in a few years thanks to Obama. I am pretty sure they will not, and their hope will all of a sudden start to wane come about a week and a half into November 2012.
3.9.2009 7:00pm
kunkmiester (mail):
I suppose prenatal rights are a tricky point for libertarians. While you want to protect a person's rights, you have to decide when a person is a person. I have religious teachings to give me the moral compass to decide, but many who don't will have different ideas, continuing the debate on this particular topic.

On an entirely different note, adult stem cell research has proven itself capable of treating dozens of diseases, and being able to be made from the patient's own cells gives them serious advantages over embryonic cells. Reason would suggest investing in the shortest path to a usable treatment, with the purely academic research getting funding related to it's promise of production.
3.9.2009 7:08pm
Jim Hu:
I'm a scientist - a molecular biologist - who supports the use of embryonic stem cells for research. If we get to therapies, great.

But unlike a lot of my peers, I've never liked this being cast as part of the so-called "Republican War on Science". As kunkmieser points out, this is about deciding person vs. non-person. Science has nothing to say about this, IMO.

I also wish that opponents would stop trying to make the argument based on the promise of adult stem cells. If personhood is the issue, I don't see how adult cells change the game. Would it be OK to kill embryos if adult stem cell projects turned out to be a dead end? If you think embryos are persons, then I hope you would say no.
3.9.2009 7:17pm
Sagar:
Prof Lindgren,

I am not sure they were "barriers" as much as "lack of federal govt funding". Bush's policy/rule was 'no federal funds for research with newly created embryonic stem cell lines' - that is not the same as "no stem cell research".

Federal govt is not the only source of funding for research. Since the Feds have been funding all sorts of spending, it is not a bad thing to throw money at this; hopefully this will lead to something beneficial.
3.9.2009 7:19pm
David Walser:
Look, I understand someone being in favor of this policy. What I don't understand is why Bush's policy keeps being misrepresented in the press and elsewhere. Bush did two things with regard to embryonic stem cell research: 1) Prohibit the use of federal funds for research that would involve destroying additional embryos. 2) He dramatically increased federal support for embryonic stem cell research (which was easy to do, since there was virtually no federal funding for this research before Bush took office).

Reports of Bush's policies consistently misstate the first thing and omit any reference to the second. Bush did NOT prohibit embryonic stem cell research. He simply choose not to fund one form of that research while funding another form. Saying that he prohibited the research is like saying abortions are illegal in the US because the federal government does not pay for them.
3.9.2009 7:19pm
Pinchy:
I'm with Sagar. Jim, why is this reversal a good move?
3.9.2009 7:24pm
therut (mail):
"First do no harm" is so old fashioned in our modern world. As a physician, I blame the medical profession. We have a thing called ethics which has become political. It is considered unethical for a physician to take part in the killing of a condemmed murderer after years and years of due process etc. But it is ethical to kill innocent humans before birth and use human organisms for scientific research. Not to mention helping people "die with so called dignity". Just does not make much sense to me. At least at this point in time the governemt has not tried to forced me to do these things that have serious moral questions attatched. It is the smugness of the MSM in presenting these issues in just one way that really bothers me. At least there should be more up front honesty of what we as physicians are doing much less our politicians. Oh and as an aside the hospice nurses are hovering around the Nursing Homes (been going on for about 3 years) looking for patients. I have had tell them NO. As the patients are not terminal just old and a cost to society. Beware if you have loved ones in the Nursing Homes. Why hospice is needed in a NH is beyond me. There are already nurses there to care for the patients. The difference is the type of "care". They are preying on the families with offers of a few more hours of direct nursing care in exchange for stopping treatment for the patient.
3.9.2009 7:30pm
Thomas A.:
A good move only for those unconcerned about the morality of destroying human embryos for research. As I'm sure you're aware, the Bush order did not prohibit embryonic stem cell research, merely federal funding of it except for existing lines. The Bush policy was an elegant compromise, and in retrospect, looks almost prescient. The advancements made in the last few years using adult stem cells have been remarkable, while there has been little progress in using embryonic stem cells. Yet those of us who oppose this type of research on ethical or religious grounds must now fund this research even though, as Brian G stated, there is no evidence that the private sector needs financial help in this area.
3.9.2009 7:30pm
David Walser is right:
Please fix the headline.
3.9.2009 7:33pm
David Walser:
Yet those of us who oppose this type of research on ethical or religious grounds must now fund this research even though, as Brian G stated, there is no evidence that the private sector needs financial help in this area.
Private sector? Aren't several states funding this type of research? If Massachusetts and California want to pay for it, why should the feds need to write a check, too? (For that matter, why should the feds bailout California if the state has the money to fund this kind of activity?
3.9.2009 7:37pm
josil (mail):
The "war on science" is just another slogan used to avoid dealing with the issues in a unemotional way. If we really wanted to rationalize science funding we might find other criteria to direct those funds other than appeals to the gut. What if anti-cancer research funding was based on the proportion of people who suffer (and die) from the disease? I bet the funding distribution would be different than it is today.
3.9.2009 7:38pm
Thomas A.:
David W.,

Maybe I didn't make myself clear. I agree with you completely. I don't think government at any level should be funding this type of research. But with this EO, those of us who oppose this research will soon be paying for it with our tax dollars.
3.9.2009 7:42pm
first history:
One thing I have never understood is, if human embryos are "persons" (at least to the pro-life community and probably a good portion of the Republican Party), why the Republican Congresses during the Bush Administration never outlawed the destruction of such embryos. As I understand, only two states (Louisiana and Georgia) have done so. Such embryos may be kept alive by their creators (putative parents) but may also be destroyed or abandoned by them when they got tired of the storage costs without consequence. No doubt more embryos are lost by this method than by scientific research.
3.9.2009 7:43pm
Bruce Hayden (mail):
Maybe I am missing something here, but didn't it turn out that embryonic stem cells turned out to be fairly cancerous, esp. as compared to more adult stem cells? My understanding is that there has been a lot more progress of late in the later due to the cancer issue plus the rejection issue.
3.9.2009 7:53pm
therut (mail):
Arguing over wheter they are persons is political. They are human organisms. That is the scientific fact. It is the glee and the smiles on the MSM and their one sided coverage that is an affront to science and reason.
3.9.2009 8:00pm
KeithK (mail):

One thing I have never understood is, if human embryos are "persons" (at least to the pro-life community and probably a good portion of the Republican Party), why the Republican Congresses during the Bush Administration never outlawed the destruction of such embryos.

It's doubtful that conservatives ever had the votes to impose such a ban. It would have been vehemently opposed in the Senate where you need 60 votes to pass anything significant.

Whether or not to use such embryos in medical research is a tricky question of ethics. It's not the kind of thing politicians are going to spend political capital on except in places (Louisiana and georgia) where public opinion largely falls on one side.
3.9.2009 8:05pm
Kirk:
David Walser,

I don't like the change any more than you apparently do, but I'm mystified at your naivete exhibited here:
What I don't understand is why Bush's policy keeps being misrepresented in the press and elsewhere.
What part of "Bush" don't you understand?
3.9.2009 8:13pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
It seems to me that if stem cell research is as promising as its advocates claim, money from the private sector would be flowing in and limitations and any limitations on federal funding wouldn't really hold back progress. Surely Bush didn't hold back research in other countries. Why have we not seen foreign progress?

In some cases the advocates' behavior has become reprehensible. For example Michael J. Fox either went off his medication or engaged in a little extra motions to make an emotional appeal. He also recently wrote
Now that the President has taken this critical action, I am excited by the prospect of American scientists carrying human embryonic stem cell research forward toward better treatments and cures that will affect countless millions of lives.
He makes it seem that but for George Bush he might have already been cured.

I hope stem cell research works out and I have never opposed it, but I feel that some very sick people might be terribly disappointed if the promised miracles don't happen soon.
3.9.2009 8:18pm
dr:

In some cases the advocates' behavior has become reprehensible. For example Michael J. Fox either went off his medication or engaged in a little extra motions to make an emotional appeal.


Wow, what a cynical thing to do, if he did that. I remember Rush Limbaugh got pilloried for making such an accusation with zero proof. You obviously have proof? Or even, like, evidence?
3.9.2009 8:21pm
OSU2L (mail):
Jim:

I honestly appreciate your careful wording here, "barriers to some forms of stem cell research" rather than normal "stem cell ban."
3.9.2009 8:42pm
first history:
It's doubtful that conservatives ever had the votes to impose such a ban. It would have been vehemently opposed in the Senate where you need 60 votes to pass anything significant.

So protecting life is reduced to political expediency? It would have been a great vote to force the Democrats to deny protection to protect their abortion allies or acknowledge life.
3.9.2009 8:43pm
OSU2L (mail):
Does anyone else find a bit of tension in this logic?:

But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research -- and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.

It is a difficult and delicate balance. Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view.

But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans -- from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs -- have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research. That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided.
3.9.2009 8:49pm
DSM:
I can understand in the abstract why someone who has a different position than I do could view this as a "good move", and a step away from the "Republican war on science". But if mere refusal to federally fund the destruction of human embryos in the pursuit of embryonic stem cell research is part of the Republican war on science, is President Obama's statement that "We will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society." part of the new Democratic war on science? (Hat-tip KJL@NRO.)

I suspect not. After all, the moral lines the other guy draws are mere provincial bigotry, arbitrary superstitions held over from prescientific worldviews; the moral lines we draw are the result of careful thought and sophisticated analyses balancing the many ethical concerns involved. And, of course, his refusal to agree that we base our position on "science and facts" and he bases his on parochial emotion and illogic is itself proof of his unsuitability for pragmatic policymaking.

Fortunately we have new priests to guide us through these difficult waters, ones whose mastery of technique guarantees the soundness of their moral judgment.
3.9.2009 8:49pm
second history:
It seems to me that if stem cell research is as promising as its advocates claim, money from the private sector would be flowing in and limitations and any limitations on federal funding wouldn't really hold back progress. Surely Bush didn't hold back research in other countries. Why have we not seen foreign progress?

Much basic research has been funded by the federal government and then licensed to the private sector. I don't remember many companies conducting early space flights. Stem cell science is at the same point as the early space program, when rockets were imploding on launch pads, with the occasional successful test launch.

If stem cell science develops successful therapies, that's great. If it doesn't, that's part of science. There has been little progress with embryonic stem cell research in this country because a number of the allowable stem cell lines were contaminated or degraded beyond use. The private sector will jump in when it can be demonstrated that the science actually works, and we haven't reached that point yet (beyond a few individual experiments on humans).
3.9.2009 8:53pm
second history:
Personally, I have no problem with human cloning. While you may have a child that will look like you in 50 years, the environment and experience will certainly give the clone a completely different personality. While you may clone a Kobe Bryant, he may not want to be a basketball player.

Given the problems cloning the higher mammals, I don't think we will see successful human cloning for several decades.
3.9.2009 8:59pm
courtwatcher:
Prof. Lindgren,
As you note, the idea of the "Republican war on science" refers (rightly or wrongly) very specifically to allegations of the executive branch's ignoring science in making policy. By contrast, the articles you link to from Climate Audit are about the behavior of scientific journals and the work of scientists, not about allegations of misuse or nonuse of science by the government. Are you seriously suggesting that the federal government should be policing the peer review process of scientific journals?
3.9.2009 9:08pm
Andrew Maier:

Personally, I have no problem with human cloning. While you may have a child that will look like you in 50 years, the environment and experience will certainly give the clone a completely different personality. While you may clone a Kobe Bryant, he may not want to be a basketball player.

Given the problems cloning the higher mammals, I don't think we will see successful human cloning for several decades.


The ignored problem with cloning here is genetic. A population becomes more genetically robust by sexual reproduction. The downside is that it's harder to find someone to reproduce with, but we've cut around that to a certain extent with adoption/sperm banks/egg donors. Cloning would create offspring that offered less genetic diversity than sexual reproduction does.
3.9.2009 9:19pm
John Henry (mail) (www):
I am happy to see this remnant of what has been called the "Republican war on science" fall by the wayside.

As noted by many commenters above, this is complete nonsense. If you favor the destruction of embryonic human organisms for research purposes, fine. But there's nothing unscientific about taking the moral position that human embryonic life should be protected, just as there is nothing scientific about supporting embryo destruction. These are moral, not scientific, questions. To describe the prior policy as part of 'a war on science' is to grossly mischaracterize the debate; it's a sign of ignorance or bad faith.
3.9.2009 9:23pm
Cornellian (mail):
But is it ethical to kill innocent humans before birth and use human organisms for scientific research.

If by "innocent humans before birth" you're referring to fertilized but not implanted embryos, I don't see how it's any less ethical than tossing them into the garbage behind the fertility clinic, which is what happens to them now.
3.9.2009 9:24pm
Perseus (mail):
But unlike a lot of my peers, I've never liked this being cast as part of the so-called "Republican War on Science". As kunkmieser points out, this is about deciding person vs. non-person. Science has nothing to say about this, IMO.

Just tonight on the Newshour I heard Irving Weissman (Stanford) make the following comment on the policy change:

"It was a fantastic change, because two things happened. First, the president said, 'I'm going to let scientists do science. I'm going to remove politics, religion, and ideology from that.'"

Why is it that your peers seem unwilling to resist the temptation to cast the issue in such terms?
3.9.2009 10:08pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
As others have noted, some of Jim's comments are nonsense. Also, the new policy still does not fund creation of new embryonic stem cell lines, nor does it specify yet which existing lines can be used. The practical effect of the new policy could be very little.
3.9.2009 10:09pm
Sagar:
right on cue, our media with layers of fact-checking comes out with "Obama lifts Bush-era ban on stem cell research" -- the lazy, incompetent, dishonest idiots!
3.9.2009 10:14pm
Real American (mail):

Obama gave an eloquent little speech about basing policy on science and facts.


Ethics will no longer be a consideration.
3.9.2009 10:30pm
mga2 (mail):
If the Supreme Court in 1973 had had the sense to leave abortion rights to the political process, where it rightly belonged, we would not be having this discussion. After some struggles, the far right-wing abortion foes would have conceded defeat, just as the segregationists did after the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
3.9.2009 10:57pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Do any of the VC's readers work in this field? I would appreciate some sort of account of recent developments in adult stem-cell research that doesn't come from avowed opponents of embryonic stem-cell research.

What I have read sounds extrememly promising — basically, that several teams of researchers in 2007-08 have created pluripotent cells from adult human skin cells, and that these seem not to have the megaloma-producing tendency of embryonic stem cells so far.

Questions: (1) Is that true? (2) If the answer to (1) is "Yes," then is there some reason that accounts of Obama's decision don't mention it, though it'd seem germane; and (3) Where does this leave CA, which earmarked a huge pile o'money for specifically-embryonic stem cell research via initiative — if it turns out that embryonic stem cell research is a fantastically expensive dead end, how quickly can CA undo the mistake?
3.9.2009 10:57pm
Perseus (mail):
Where does this leave CA, which earmarked a huge pile o'money for specifically-embryonic stem cell research via initiative

California is broke, and CIRM will have difficulties issuing the next set of bonds. See here &here.
3.9.2009 11:15pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

But is it ethical to kill innocent humans before birth and use human organisms for scientific research.

If by "innocent humans before birth" you're referring to fertilized but not implanted embryos, I don't see how it's any less ethical than tossing them into the garbage behind the fertility clinic, which is what happens to them now.


Well, sure. And while we're at it, we can conduct the potentially harmful clinical experiments on convicts who are on death row. How is that less ethical than killing them as we are doing now?
3.9.2009 11:36pm
Brian Garst (www):
The true danger of politicizing science never came from not funding something. Quite the opposite, really. The danger comes from government favoring politically popular pursuits, or attaching strings to federal dollars. And, if history is a guide, strings are inevitable when federal dollars are involved.
3.9.2009 11:42pm
kunkmiester (mail):
http://www.stemcellresearch.org/facts/treatments.htm

They are biased, but they have a nice list and references linked. I'd love to see someone produce a list of embryonic successes. The economic point shares the high ground. After years of work, embryonic research hasn't done much. Studying them might be interesting, but animal embryos should work just as well, since it will be basic knowledge, not actual cures.

Adult cells have a nice list of accomplishments, and we should be capitalizing on that to get treatments in the hospitals where they can do good, rather than start a perpetual project like the Tokomak(30-40 years and billions of dollars old, and still decades and billions away from working).

For the record, I would oppose fertility clinics making so many extra embryos for their treatments. As I define life as starting at conception, I cannot support human embryonic research, and don't want my taxes doing so either.

Perseus, Irving has issues, since even without the moral issues, the adult stem cell work is much more promising and much closer to putting out treatments. In this case politics is putting the funding where the science lobbyists want it, not where it'll do the most good.
3.9.2009 11:43pm
Angus:
kunkmiester,
I'll have to pass on reading info from an organization that mockingly refers to the "Audacity of Hype."

What I've read in a nutshell on stem cell progress:

There have been some successful experiments with adult stem cells, but those stem cells seem to be limited to becoming only tissue from which they derived (e.g. stem cells from the brain can only be used to treat the brain, stem cells from the heart only used to treat the heart, etc.)

Some of the early embryonic stem cells were derived in such a way that it introduced a carcinogen. However, later embryonic stem cell lines do not seem to share this problem.
3.10.2009 12:30am
trad and anon (mail):
If by "innocent humans before birth" you're referring to fertilized but not implanted embryos, I don't see how it's any less ethical than tossing them into the garbage behind the fertility clinic, which is what happens to them now.
It's much more common for them to be flushed out with the menstrual blood, which is what happens to the vast majority of fertilized embryos.
3.10.2009 1:18am
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
It's much more common for them to be flushed out with the menstrual blood, which is what happens to the vast majority of fertilized embryos.

Yep, and even of the ones that we know implant there are twice as many miscarriages as there are abortions. (Most miscarriages are 'silent' and are only detected in women having hormone level monitoring.)

In the Old Testament, a fetus was property and didn't have rights until it took its first breath. The idea of a magic soul glomming on to an ovum at the moment of fertilization has its roots in greco-roman tradition that really didn't become canon in some circles until about 150 years ago.

As to global climate change we can't afford to assume we aren't responsible unless the evidence we aren't is overwhelming, but it can't be come a cult either - all the sunspots could go away tomorrow and we would be in an global cold snap that could last for centuries - we have to do what we can now with what we know now and always plan for the worst case scenario.
3.10.2009 1:40am
pmorem (mail):
One of the many problems with the global warming analysis and federal funding is that many of the most vocal advocates of "global warming" are failing to live up to their funding requirements.

Many have obligations under their grants to archive the data and methods and are failing to do that. Instead they just publish "results". Steve McIntyre has extensively reported on his difficulties reconstructing the methods. Some methods are deeply flawed. Others may have been created from whole cloth.

Hansen is another example of not fulfilling his obligations. He has not even bothered to determine the impact of bugs in his software. I filed a FOIA, and NASA (specifically including GISS) had no responsive documents.

This should be trusted somehow?
3.10.2009 5:57am
David Walser:
As to global climate change we can't afford to assume we aren't responsible unless the evidence we aren't is overwhelming, but it can't be come a cult either - all the sunspots could go away tomorrow and we would be in an global cold snap that could last for centuries - we have to do what we can now with what we know now and always plan for the worst case scenario.

At first blush, this sounds like a very reasonable position, but it's not. Basing our economy around a worst case scenario would ask us to reduce carbon emissions to levels not seen before the horse and buggy days. Since carbon emissions are still all-but-directly correlated with economic output (and will be until we can power everything we do with solar, wind, and nuclear energy), we'd need to have a similar sized economy and standard of living -- with the dramatically shorter life expectancy that would come with that standard of living.

Why would it be prudent to adopt a carbon policy -- with all it's attendant downsides -- if we only think there might be some remote chance human activity is causing global warming AND global warming will have even worse results? I would want to know with near certainty that benefits exceed costs -- by a wide margin -- before condemning so many to an early death. As in all things, YMMV.
3.10.2009 7:29am
wfjag:
Andrew Maier:
Your science based opposition to cloning ignores the economic stimulus value, especially to an especially American art form -- Nashville music. Given what Nashville artists have done with tears in your beers, imagine what they can do with cloning. A modest example:

Lord it's hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way!
To know me is to love me, because I made me that way.
Lord it's hard to be humble, when there's mor o' me ev-er-er day!
3.10.2009 8:20am
DiversityHire:
wfjag, you have persuaded me of the evils of cloning: the next great boy-band could be six clones with merely environmental differences between them— backed by eleven dancing Brittney Spearses.
3.10.2009 8:52am
DiversityHire:
On the other hand, the DNA of Cliff Burton, Ian Curtis, Keith Moon, and Brian Jones is just sitting there…
3.10.2009 8:58am
wfjag:
Yup, DH. And, think of the medical value of cloning Keith Richards -- whose DNA additionally shows resistance to every known toxin.
3.10.2009 9:16am
rick.felt:
It's much more common for them to be flushed out with the menstrual blood, which is what happens to the vast majority of fertilized embryos.

Yep, and even of the ones that we know implant there are twice as many miscarriages as there are abortions. (Most miscarriages are 'silent' and are only detected in women having hormone level monitoring.)


Humans have a 100% mortality rate. That doesn't give us the right to experiment on and kill them.

he idea of a magic soul glomming on to an ovum at the moment of fertilization has its roots in greco-roman tradition that really didn't become canon in some circles until about 150 years ago.

It's not necessary to believe in the existence of the soul to believe it's immoral to kill an adult. (At least that's what atheists and agnostics tell me.) If a "magic soul" is irrelevant to the morality of killing adults, then it's irrelevant to the morality of killing anything else.
3.10.2009 9:22am
DiversityHire:
failing to live up to their funding requirements

As one who is both individually and as a member of a team doing exactly this, I'll say this: if everyone knew how little gets done in the typical NSF-supported work-day, you'd never hear about "the tragic underfunding of science" or "the war on science" ever again. There's something to be said for scarcity motivating progress. And don't get me started on getting two organizations funded by different NSF directorates to work together, even when specifically written into their funding requirements.
3.10.2009 9:25am
rick.felt:
I'm curious about something:

If it's moral to kill a human embryo - or fetus, for that matter - with scientific tools to improve the health of other humans, is it moral to eat a human embryo or fetus to obtain needed protein?
3.10.2009 9:42am
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

In the Old Testament, a fetus was property and didn't have rights until it took its first breath. The idea of a magic soul glomming on to an ovum at the moment of fertilization has its roots in greco-roman tradition that really didn't become canon in some circles until about 150 years ago.



For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Ps. 139 13-16
3.10.2009 9:46am
jukeboxgrad's favorite YouTube video:

In the Old Testament, a fetus was property and didn't have rights until it took its first breath. The idea of a magic soul glomming on to an ovum at the moment of fertilization has its roots in greco-roman tradition that really didn't become canon in some circles until about 150 years ago.
To the extent that this statement is true, it requires an inferential leap that you wouldn't make in other contexts.

As Chief Wiggum put it, "the Bible says a lot of things." It's a bit odd to find myself on the other side of the Leviticus-quoting, but I'm sure you find it to be equally odd. In the Old Testament, disobedient children and homosexuals did not enjoy the right not to be stoned. Now they do. Slavery was legal in this country less than 150 years ago. Its immorality did not become clear in some circles until more recently.

The times, they are a-changin'.
3.10.2009 10:03am
hawkins:
This is what I've never understood about opposition to stem cell research -- if the embryos are already created and will not be used, what is the harm in using them for research? I understand opposition to the creation of embryos in order for them to be destroyed in research, but much research could occur without killing any additional embryos.
3.10.2009 10:27am
Smallholder (mail) (www):
John Henry wrote:


If you favor the destruction of embryonic human organisms for research purposes, fine. But there's nothing unscientific about taking the moral position that human embryonic life should be protected, just as there is nothing scientific about supporting embryo destruction. These are moral, not scientific, questions. To describe the prior policy as part of 'a war on science' is to grossly mischaracterize the debate; it's a sign of ignorance or bad faith.



I agree, John. The stem cell ban was based on morality, not an assessment of science. However, the perception that Republicans oppose science does have a root in other things - creationism, refusal to look at data about abstinence education, and climate change. Whatever your stand on the merits of each statement, it is clearly fact that the Bush administration did not heed the clear opinion of the scientific community and purposely portrayed a "controversy" when none in fact existed - i.e. "Teach the controversy over creationism intelligent design!" or"But Exxon's climate scientists claim that since scientists were mistaken about global cooling twenty years ago, no one really believes the data we have now about global warming."

With a track record like that, it is easy for intellectually lazy liberals to attribute other stuff to an anti-scientific bias.

At any rate, I'm glad that stem cell research will be funded. I don't believe in ensoulment-at-conception, and want to live forever (I'm having fun!), so any step on the road to Smallholder's immorality immortality is a good one.


David Walser wrote:


Why would it be prudent to adopt a carbon policy -- with all it's attendant downsides -- if we only think there might be some remote chance human activity is causing global warming AND global warming will have even worse results?



I concur - I truly wish the debate we were having was about costs and benefits of addressing global warming. It may be cheaper to ameliorate the effects than to avoid warming altogether. Al Gore may be paranoid about mosquitos carrying malaria, but perhaps man is better served by distibuting netting and using DDT again rather than going back to 1700 level carbon emissions. I'm not taking a stand there - there are some associated costs that are hard to quantify - (what is the preservation of vulnerable species worth? Many Pacific Islanders might want to stay on their low lying ancestral homes - how do we balance their preference with our interest in economic growth) - I'm just wishing that smart people would engage in that debate so I could learn from them.

But the last few years? Scientific debate on the climate issue is: "It's cold today. That proves that global warming is a fraud perpetrated by a cabal of anti-American scientists bent on destroying the capitalist system."

Let's have a real debate about costs and benefits that is devoid of Limbaughian lowest-common denominator catchphrases.
3.10.2009 10:36am
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Hawkins: Those of us who oppose stem cell research don't like to see embryos created that aren't going to get their chance. This was alluded to above.

Also, once we countenance experimentation on human embryos, we've cracked open a gate that ought to be locked and barred. We can look into recent history and see what's on the other side of it.

My thoughts here and here. And here. Since you asked.
3.10.2009 10:39am
hawkins:

Hawkins: Those of us who oppose stem cell research don't like to see embryos created that aren't going to get their chance. This was alluded to above.

Also, once we countenance experimentation on human embryos, we've cracked open a gate that ought to be locked and barred. We can look into recent history and see what's on the other side of it.


Thanks for the answer. While I support stem cell research, I completely understand your first position. But I dont think the slippery slope argument carries much weight. If a practice creates harm, there are reasons to oppose it. But the fear that that it may lead to harmful practices is not persuasive to me.
3.10.2009 10:49am
asanders:

Angus wrote:

What I've read in a nutshell on stem cell progress:

There have been some successful experiments with adult stem cells, but those stem cells seem to be limited to becoming only tissue from which they derived (e.g. stem cells from the brain can only be used to treat the brain, stem cells from the heart only used to treat the heart, etc.)


Untrue. See , explaining that since 2007 scientists have been able to create pluripotent stem cells from adult skin cells, and also explaining developments since 2007 that have made this procedure even more promising. One of the best things about induced pluripotent stem cells is that they are patient specific, thus there is 0% chance of immune rejection. To achieve the same result with embryonic stem cells requires cloning human embryos. Yesterday Obama restated his commitment to refraining from cloning for reproductive purposes, but he remained conveniently silent about cloning for stem-cell purposes.
3.10.2009 10:55am
asanders:
Sorry, the link did not make it into my above post. The second sentence of my text should have read:

See this article from the Weekly Standard, explaining that since 2007 scientists have been able to create pluripotent stem cells from adult skin cells, and also explaining developments since 2007 that have made thsi procedure even more promising.
3.10.2009 10:57am
BPettit (mail):
Buying stock in Hallmark in anticipation of all the miscarried fetus funeral card sales that are sure to spike from far-right purchasers...bc miscarried fetuses ARE DEAD PEOPLE who deserve to be treated as such...right? No more dishonorable toilet-flushes for PEOPLE!
3.10.2009 11:04am
Javert:
So science's ends justifies the theft of my means? While I'm not one of them, the fact is that some people are morally opposed to such research. How is it "a good move" to force them to pay for ideas with which they disagree? And please don't cite all the other examples where this happens, for that is merely begging the question.
3.10.2009 11:15am
David Walser:
Smallholder wrote:
I truly wish the debate we were having was about costs and benefits of addressing global warming. ...I'm just wishing that smart people would engage in that debate so I could learn from them.

But the last few years? Scientific debate on the climate issue is: "It's cold today. That proves that global warming is a fraud perpetrated by a cabal of anti-American scientists bent on destroying the capitalist system."

Let's have a real debate about costs and benefits that is devoid of Limbaughian lowest-common denominator catchphrases.

In all fairness, much of the "anti-science approach" comes from the Al Gore side of the debate. Al Gore and his crowd attempt to forestall debate by claiming "the science is in" and that there is an "overwhelming consensus" among scientists on the propositions that human activity is causing global warming and that global warming will cause cataclysmic problems. When anyone offers serious criticisms of these propositions, they are decried as "global warming deniers". Rather than deal with the merits of criticisms, critics are vilified. Is this good science?

Science is supposed to be an impartial search for understanding and knowledge. Too many scientists have become advocates for particular policy outcomes; an advocate -- no matter how well trained -- is not acting as a scientist. Just as it's right and proper to reject as science "intelligent design" -- no matter how many "scientific instruments" were used in developing its claims, intelligent design is not science -- it's also proper to question as science a "consensus report" that was written by the political appointees of a multitude of countries. Science is not based on consensus and compromise. Science is based on data. The claims of Al Gore and his crew greatly overreach what the current data will support. Is this science? No, it is not.
3.10.2009 11:22am
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
asanders is right, Angus; that's what "pluripotent" means in this context. Cells that can only become one kind of tissue aren't what we're talking about.

S/he's also right, as I understand it, about the "patient-specific" part. Stem cells generated from your skin would be genetically identical to everything else in your body apart from germ cells (sperm or ova). The only way to do the same thing with embryonic stem cells would be to inject DNA from one of your cells into a human ovum, so as to create an embryo that would be a clone of yourself; and even there the mitochondrial DNA wouldn't match yours — not that that matters, apparently.
3.10.2009 11:26am
rick.felt:
Buying stock in Hallmark in anticipation of all the miscarried fetus funeral card sales that are sure to spike from far-right purchasers...bc miscarried fetuses ARE DEAD PEOPLE who deserve to be treated as such...right? No more dishonorable toilet-flushes for PEOPLE!

Well there are miscarriage sympathy cards, but that doesn't address what you raised, really.

I'll give you some credit for your point: No one is crying for (much less conducting a funeral for) embryos that they didn't know were there. Okay.

But perhaps the appropriate response is more reverence towards sex and its consequences. If the concept of sex is that it is directed (in a teleological sense) to the creation of life, we'll remember that it's possible that a human being is being flushed away. I don't think that grieving over an unknowable failure of implantation is necessary, but perhaps we should at least be aware that it could be happening, and not treat sex lightly.
3.10.2009 11:39am
strategichamlet (mail):
Smallholder - "I'm not taking a stand there - there are some associated costs that are hard to quantify"

I agree, but as they say, there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Right now we are conducting an uncontrolled chemistry experiment on the only atmosphere we have. Maybe this will have minimal negative results, maybe not, but I think it would be prudent to work on making our society more energy efficient. There is a lot that can be done without serious economic consequences (e.g. converting to LED based lighting, actually thinking about heating and cooling when designing new buildings, etc.). This would be good policy anyway as even if we are extremely lucky and dramatically changing the content of our atmosphere has no negative consequences, resource depletion certainly is a problem and so it behoves us to conserve the finite resources we have.
3.10.2009 12:13pm
Oren:

See this article from the Weekly Standard, explaining that since 2007 scientists have been able to create pluripotent stem cells from adult skin cells, and also explaining developments since 2007 that have made thsi procedure even more promising.

This is many orders of magnitude more difficult, time consuming and expensive than using embryos from fertility clinics that would have been destroyed anyway.
3.10.2009 12:19pm
DangerMouse:
If you favor the destruction of embryonic human organisms for research purposes, fine. But there's nothing unscientific about taking the moral position that human embryonic life should be protected, just as there is nothing scientific about supporting embryo destruction. These are moral, not scientific, questions.

The entire point is to prevent a discussion of morality. They don't want to talk about it, because it's a discussion they can't win.

What else should be done in the name of science? Apparently, nothing is prohibited. Why then is Obama against human cloning? Indeed, he's only setting himself up for the next person to come along and attack him for his anti-science stance oppising human cloning. Why, think of the possibilities - factory farms to breed humans for replacement parts! They'll never awake from their artificial wombs, and if you need a heart or liver then they're right there for you!

Why not expirement on those on death row? Make it a trade off: you get to live if we can expirement on you.

This scenario does kind of remind me of the NICE from C.S. Lewis's book "That Hideous Strength." It's a pretense at science, but the real result will be a devaluing of human life, the commoditization of man, and the overturning of morality. Opposition is characterized as old fuddy-duddies who prefer magical explanations instead of the true characterization as a moral question.
3.10.2009 12:19pm
Jim Hu:
Perseus: asks
Why is it that your peers seem unwilling to resist the temptation to cast the issue in such terms?

Maybe because scientists are not exempt from the human weakness of confusing their interests with fundamental principles.
3.10.2009 12:26pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
At first blush, this sounds like a very reasonable position, but it's not

Yes it is because we are setting a pretty distant in the future goal, not a 'its gotta be that way right now' goal. If the information changes we can change the goal, but until it changes if we don't start right now making changes there's no reason to make them at all - we're toast. This is the real world - there are no absolutes - we do the best we can with what we have and adjust our goals as new information is received.

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.


Coupled with the fact that fetus were property, thanks for proving my point. Their days don't start until they are formed. This is a living born person talking poetically about their 'pre days' destiny, something someone who's never born never will say. (and of course why would an all knowing loving god put a soul in any fetus he knew wasn't going to be born anyway?)

In the Old Testament, disobedient children and homosexuals did not enjoy the right not to be stoned.

No they didn't, but we are talking a more metaphysical question here - when does an an ovum and sperm become human? Presuming there is a magic sky father if fetus were 'sacred' presumptively he would have shared that info early on, but he didn't. He said it was a property crime to make a woman lose her fetus, his priest said that humanity began with the first breath just as it did in the story of Genesis. For people saying they follow traditions based on these to suddenly claim it happens at conception basically means that the people that actually talked to god got it wrong. (of course its far more likely everyone is just making it up but regardless their lack of consistency undermines any claim of legitimacy) By their own religious historical standards its not immoral, and even if these things have souls far more are killed by God than by man, and we live in a country where no one has to share this superstition if they don't want to.

People have a right to make this decision about their embryos not others.
3.10.2009 12:37pm
Oren:


No they didn't, but we are talking a more metaphysical question here - when does an an ovum and sperm become human?

At the earliest point of successful viability. Currently, 20 weeks, 5 days but it will get earlier and earlier as technology progresses.

DangerMouse, is it wrong for infertile couples to have IVF?
3.10.2009 12:43pm
Guest14:
So science's ends justifies the theft of my means? While I'm not one of them, the fact is that some people are morally opposed to such research. How is it "a good move" to force them to pay for ideas with which they disagree?
Such people are stupid. I see no value in allowing an "idiot's veto".
3.10.2009 12:44pm
Bruce Hayden (mail):
NYT: Rethink Stem Cells? Science Already Has
However, the president's support of embryonic stem cell research comes at a time when many advances have been made with other sorts of stem cells. The Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka found in 2007 that adult cells could be reprogrammed to an embryonic state with surprising ease. This technology "may eventually eclipse the embryonic stem cell lines for therapeutic as well as diagnostics applications," Dr. Kriegstein said. For researchers, reprogramming an adult cell can be much more convenient, and there have never been any restrictions on working with adult stem cells.

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

Despite an F.D.A.-approved safety test of embryonic stem cells in spinal cord injury that the Geron Corporation began in January, many scientists believe that putting stem-cell-derived tissues into patients lies a long way off. Embryonic stem cells have their drawbacks. They cause tumors, and the adult cells derived from them may be rejected by the patient's immune system. Furthermore, whatever disease process caused the patients' tissue cells to die is likely to kill introduced cells as well. All these problems may be solvable, but so far none have been solved.
3.10.2009 12:50pm
Suzy (mail):
A coherent position opposing this research is very difficult for anyone who is willing to allow IVF that leads to surplus embryos. Whether they are frozen, discarded, or used for research, you cannot say they are being treated ethically in the way that would be demanded by giving them the same moral status as adults or even implanted embryos.

If it is less acceptable to leave your three year old in a frozen suspended animation than it is to leave an embryo there, then the moral status of these beings differs. And once you accept that the status differs, the door is open to arguments about what else is permissible, given the differences. If it's not acceptable to leave the embryo frozen, then you had better not allow IVF either.
3.10.2009 1:03pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Bob Van Burkleo wrote:


People have a right to make this decision about their embryos not others.



Your conclusion assumes that everyone else agrees that an embryo has no moral standing.

This isn't the case.

If someone believes that aborting a fetus or destroying an embryo to harvest stem cells is murder, it is their positive duty to try to prevent the murder of those children - even if the murderers are their own parents and even if good comes from the murder in the form of medical research.

I'm not one of those people. But I do respect that the folks who are pro-life are trying to prevent what, in their minds, is murder. We should recognize that opponents aren't always people of ill-will.

I don't extend that courtesy to bigots or anti-gay activists. Whereas abortion has a victim (from their viewpoint), being a minority doesn't harm anyone and boys kissing is a victimless crime. Heck, it seems to make them happy, so good on 'em - the anti-gay people can "choose" to be straight all they want as long as they don't dictate to the rest of us.

Unfortunately, the pro-life people whom I respectfully disagree with and the anti-gay people I disdain seem to greatly overlap.
3.10.2009 1:10pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
At the earliest point of successful viability. Currently, 20 weeks, 5 days but it will get earlier and earlier as technology progresses.

And oddly enough the final system to develop essential for life is 'the breath'. But that is the time - when the fetus is developed enough that someone else can take care of it the situation transitions from a personal interest to a community one.

And as Bruce's article illustrates it may end up we don't need embryonic stem cells at all. So let's investigate, see what is true, and go from there?
3.10.2009 1:12pm
Dick King:
When I saw Inconvenient Truth, I noticed that there were no footnotes, no references to peer-reviewed articles. Fine. I get it. How do you have footnotes in a movie?

So I signed out the book from my local public library. There were no footnotes or references there, either. There were photo credits, but no footnotes.

-dk
3.10.2009 1:15pm
Educated by Jesuits (mail):
I will assume that Oren at 12:43 is not a caricature; I ask in response:

1. Is it your position that a 26 wk old fetus is "human" today, but was not "human" 100 years ago?

2. Is it your position that someone who finds your definition pat and facile, and who would, instead, define as "human" any genetically unique entity resulting from the union of human sperm and human ovum, as unworthy of your trouble to debate?; as a foot soldier in the "right-wing war on science?

3. What percentage of the 20 + 5 fetuses need to survive for you to accept that as the threshold of humanity?

I have children who were delivered premature at 16 1/2 weeks; they did not survive. I held them in a little basket and saw them with fingernails and everything--they were as "human" as you are.
3.10.2009 1:16pm
rick.felt:
By their own religious historical standards its not immoral, and even if these things have souls far more are killed by God than by man, and we live in a country where no one has to share this superstition if they don't want to.

We all get "killed by God" eventually, don't we?

Anyway, certain Orthodox Jew might find themselves with a problem, but other than Orthodox Jews, I don't know of many people who think that Mosaic law needs to be followed to the letter.

But that is the time - when the fetus is developed enough that someone else can take care of it the situation transitions from a personal interest to a community one.

I must confess that I've never heard that formulation before: "a human life acquires rights when it is developed enough that someone else can take care of it...." Fascinating, I believe, once you do more to define "care."
3.10.2009 1:18pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
If someone believes that aborting a fetus or destroying an embryo to harvest stem cells is murder, it is their positive duty to try to prevent the murder of those children - even if the murderers are their own parents and even if good comes from the murder in the form of medical research.

So I can fight to take children out of homes of fundamentalists because I think exposing them to beliefs in magic sky fathers is child-abuse?

Sorry, we don't have a right to run other people's personal lives - its one of our founding 'things'. And it isn't murder since that's illegal homicide and blastocytes have no more rights than the cut off tip of my finger grated with the cheese on my salad.
3.10.2009 1:18pm
Virginian:

But the last few years? Scientific debate on the climate issue is: "It's cold today. That proves that global warming is a fraud perpetrated by a cabal of anti-American scientists bent on destroying the capitalist system."


Give me a break! Every mid-summer heat wave over the past several years has been held up as evidence of global warming. Cuz, ya know, it never used to be hot in August.

I agree that the dreaded "deniers" are now using the same argument in reverse. But, at the risk of sounding like an 8 year old, you started it.
3.10.2009 1:24pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Bob,

I don't want to get into a (un?)holy war here - but I think it is useful to understand that pro-life people are only incidentally concerned with running a woman's life - they are concerned with preventing (what they believe to be) the murder of (what they believe to be) a life.

It may not legally be murder - but a pro-lifer would say the defect is in the law, not what constitutes the murder itself.
3.10.2009 1:24pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
must confess that I've never heard that formulation before: "a human life acquires rights when it is developed enough that someone else can take care of it...." Fascinating, I believe, once you do more to define "care."

Actually that is the Old Testament stand point - rights start with the breath. Then they said once the baby was half way down the birth canal, but now with modern surgical procedures that is in the near the end of the 2nd trimester - when the lungs start producing surfactin and are capable of respiration.

You could go back years in these discussions and find my position has been consistent - it becomes a community issue when someone other than the mother can take charge of the care. I have always advocated that rather than whine about abortions the people that want to prevent them should develop the technology that they can take over the custody of the fetus.

Some states agree that viability implies rights: Illinois requires a separate doctor when there is any chance the fetus might be viable AND requires that the abortion technique be the one that will most likely result in a viable birth.

There is a technological solution to this supposed 'moral' dilemma the whiners just have to find it.
3.10.2009 1:28pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
It may not legally be murder - but a pro-lifer would say the defect is in the law, not what constitutes the murder itself.

Ditto with my child abuse analogy - where does it end?
3.10.2009 1:31pm
Javert:

I see no value in allowing an "idiot's veto".
Over how their own money is spent?! We're talking about whether an individual should be forced -- through taxes and government funding of stem cell research -- to pay for a project that he finds morally reprehensible. We're not talking about whether such "idiots" should be allowed -- through the government's police power -- to ban such research. In the expression "free scientific inquiry," the first word is redundant. But "free" does not mean that scientists have a right to force the rest of us to pay for their research. To take politics out of science means that government may neither control nor fund science.
3.10.2009 1:36pm
rick.felt:
You could go back years in these discussions and find my position has been consistent - it becomes a community issue when someone other than the mother can take charge of the care.

It's not like I haven't heard a 'viability' argument before. I just never heard it formulated in the way you have done.

Please define "mother." As you know, we can take an embryo and implant it in someone who is not its biological mother. Couldn't we say that "someone other than the mother" has taken charge of its care?

I also find it fascinating that you believe that human rights are determined by technological progress. This has important implications for the universality of morality, don't you think? In a modern American hospital, we can now save a child born at six months. In Afghanistan they don't have that technology. Is it moral to kill a fetus in the 8th month in Afghanistan? Or does the mere existence of technology that theoretically could save a premature baby's life give all fetuses of the same age those rights? Does it matter if the technology has been proven to work, or if it has yet to be put into practice? Does just one fetus out of a million need to be saved at that age for them all to acquire rights?
3.10.2009 1:47pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Javert,

Are you willing to extend that courtesy to people who are morally opposed to violence - that you can't require pacifists to pay taxes during wartime?

How about those of us who morally object to discrimination against gays? Are we morally required to pay taxes supporting some married people and not others (i.e. social security benefits, federal pensions, etc. - see Gil v. OPM)?

Bob,

I don't agree with the life at conception people. But I'm also not buying your analogy. If pro-lifers believe abortion is murder, I understand that they feel morally compelled to prevent everyone else from committing that sin/crime. If you believe raising kids to believe in Jesus/The Flying Spaghetti Monster/Invisible Pink Unicorn is child abuse, it is your moral duty to try to save that child from theists' nefarious clutches.

Of course, I don't think either thing is a sin so I'll be content to live and let live and to oppose any mandate of someone's purely religious viewpoint - while respecting them and you.
3.10.2009 1:50pm
Javert:

Are you willing to extend that courtesy to people who are morally opposed to violence - that you can't require pacifists to pay taxes during wartime?

How about those of us who morally object to discrimination against gays? Are we morally required to pay taxes supporting some married people and not others (i.e. social security benefits, federal pensions, etc. - see Gil v. OPM)?
That "courtesy" (aka principle) should be extended to both groups. As opposed to many 20th century conservatives (e..g, Hayek and Epstein), I am against government coercion on principle.
3.10.2009 1:56pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
If you believe raising kids to believe in Jesus/The Flying Spaghetti Monster/Invisible Pink Unicorn is child abuse, it is your moral duty to try to save that child from theists' nefarious clutches.

And we do that in this nation by laws - if they think its murder pass a law or constitutional amendment making it illegal homicide. If you can't then allow others their rights and realize that the government finances all sorts of totally legal things that many people don't approve of all the time.

I support my view by explaining how seductive superstition is and how it works to every young mind I get access to - work with in the law, recognize others have a right to believe differently within the law.
3.10.2009 2:04pm
FWB (mail):
Under what authority? Not something in the Constitution!

Now did Congress pass a law that provided for the President to make such a decision? If so, then POSSIBLY this is Constitutional. But then one must question Congress' authority. It's not in the commerce clause (subjec to the greatest lies in the history of the US). Implied powers are another lie. ANYONE who studies and logically evaluates the delegated powers can readily see the fallacy of claiming implied powers. IP was just Hamilton's revenge for not getting his way to create a monarchy with him as King.

If this is simply an "executive order" without Congressional legislation (and even with depending on the claims of authority) then it is patently unconstitutional as would have been Bush's order to stop it. If it ain't listed, it ain't delegated. While executive orders tied specifically to Congressional legislation are legitimate, the usurpation of power by Presidents through the illegitimate activity of issuing their own executive orders is another nail in the coffin of freedom.

Dominus providebit!
3.10.2009 2:08pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
Please define "mother." the womb and whatever entity has legal control of it.

I also find it fascinating that you believe that human rights are determined by technological progress.

No more accurately I believe the moment when human rights begin can be determined by technological progress.

Reminds me of the Star Trek episode where they found the 21st century people in cryogenic tubes. Captain Picard chastises Data for bringing them on board 'they're dead!' he exclaims. Even though they had the technology to bring them all back to life their right to life, in his view, terminated with their death and they were not morally obligated to bring them back to life merely because they could.

One of the real moral questions of our times - just because we can insure the initiation of rights does that make us obligated to do so? When we learn to make AIs does that mean we would then be morally obligated to always allow an AI to form?

Does just one fetus out of a million need to be saved at that age for them all to acquire rights?

No, since viability is an individual quality. That's why Illinois has its laws, to increase the probability of viability of the delivered fetus. If a state chooses or just doesn't have the technological ability to insure viability than regardless the inviable still have not initiated rights. Remember we are talking about what initiates rights and biblically and currently viability is that benchmark.
3.10.2009 2:18pm
David Drake:
Bob Van B: Could you please give me a cite to the Old Testament that supports your positions, especially the one that the unborn were "property"? And that life began when a baby drew its first breath (as opposed to Adam and Eve, who were not "born")? Thanks.
3.10.2009 2:24pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
Could you please give me a cite to the Old Testament that supports your positions, especially the one that the unborn were "property"

No but Google is your friend. There is a passage where the husband is required to be compensated for an injury to his wife that causes her to lose a child, i.e.its not a murder, the pregnant adulterer that was going to be put to death, i.e. killing fetuses is not murder, and at the same sites they explain the rationale that the Hebrews used to determine when human rights began. I present these only to show the historical inconsistency of the current positions of some people and in the end its irrelevant - this is religion in the US, they could say it starts at conception because Xenu told them so and it would be equally as valid and everyone who didn't share that belief would be free to point and laugh.

That should be enough for you to find your own confirmation of these positions.
3.10.2009 2:39pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Javert:

I doff my cap to you - too many people's principles function only when they support their personal policy preferences. You are consistent. We need more people like that.

David Drake:

I'm guessing Bob is refering to Exodus 21, the most on-point discussion of fetus destruction in the Bible:


22If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

23And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

24Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,



I.E. - Kill a fetus, pay a fine like you do for other property damage, but killing is punishable by death. Therefore, killing a fetus is not equal to murder.

That is the King James Version; more recent Bibles have changed the wording from what is essential miscarriage to "gives birth prematurely" in an attempt to soften the blow. But those translations date from AFTER when fundamentalists began using Thomas as the basis for ensouling the blastula. The original is more in line with St. Aquinas, who said that ensoulment began when the fetus took on human form (but when exactly is that?)
3.10.2009 2:46pm
Anatid:
Keeping in mind that a majority of fertilized ova will fail to implant, and that a majority of implanted zygotes will miscarry in the first trimester ... if you believe that the body contains a soul from conception, then how is it ethical to have sex at all? In the simple act of naturally conceiving a child, you're creating and condemning half a dozen other children. How is this acceptable?
3.10.2009 2:53pm
Educated by Jesuits (mail):
Anatid and his ilk:

please fill in the blank:
"You far-right wing nuts simply must dispense with this silly folderol, and acknowledge, finally, that every sane thinking person knows that life begins NOT at conception but when __________________".


PS: please provide analytical support for your response.

PPS: NB that: all fertilised ova eventually perish; I fail to see the relevance to this discussion of whether demise happens within 100 seconds or 100 years of conception.
3.10.2009 3:04pm
rick.felt:
If a state chooses or just doesn't have the technological ability to insure viability than regardless the inviable still have not initiated rights.

All this says is that a fetus in state that doesn't give it legal rights doesn't have legal rights. Well yeah, but you're not really moving the ball downfield.

Remember we are talking about what initiates rights and biblically and currently viability is that benchmark.

That's the discussion we're having? Really? Okay, knock yourself out, but I don't have much to contribute on this topic because I don't know what you mean by "biblically," or why it should matter to anyone who does not believe himself to be bound by all of Mosaic law.

Atheists tell us all the time that they don't need a god to know that killing an adult is wrong. Isn't it therefore possible for an atheist to conclude, for reasons having nothing to do with religion, that destroying human embryos is wrong?
3.10.2009 3:08pm
Just a thought:
Anatid,

Humans have a 100% mortality rate. People get sick and die. There is nothing wrong with this fact that humans die. And yet, you would grant that it is unethical to a murder a 20-year old, healthy human being, wouldn't you? Do you see that distinction?

Now if you believe that a zygote/embryo/fetus is a human being (I'm not saying you do, but just assume this position as a hypothetical), apply that same distinction and it solves your dilemma: there is nothing wrong with the fact that some zygotes/embryos/fetuses die in a miscarriage, but there is something unethical about actively killing the zygote/embryo/fetus.
3.10.2009 3:10pm
Michael B (mail):
War on Science, War on Wonderfulness, War on Whatever, du jour, to be updated as required by political necessity.

It's a bit like writing for Reason or writing a piece titled "Reason as Our Guide," and imagining that doing so inherently indicates (read arrogates) reason to one's cause, that reason is being used by the good guys - and the dark forces of anti-reason are being used by and are motivating the bad guys, the guys wearing the black hats.

Politics and moralistic theater and pretension, redux.

I fully allow - in the social/political arena, the public square - that conundrums, paradoxes and, absent some prepossessed moral/ethical framework and assumptions, unknowables are involved in the embryonic and in other debates. But that is the point being made. What is involved is a set of very real moral/ethical, philosophical and related issues - not science qua science, not reason qua reason, in some abstracted, unalloyed sense.

Hence the most fundamental irony involved here is that our wouldbe science and reason based authorities are the ones who are too often obfuscating the more elemental aspects of the debates and arrogating the signs and signifiers, the semiotics (e.g., "science," "reason," "the public good"), for purposes of advancing their own sense of rightness and their own political/social ends. We are all Obamaesque now, and more than ever before.
3.10.2009 3:18pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
I fail to see the relevance to this discussion of whether demise happens within 100 seconds or 100 years of conception.

Like the old joke about the woman who'll sleep with for a million dollars and then you offer 10 - we've already established what she is now we are just haggling over the price.

If its ok to produce fertilized ovum that will not survive then the real question is what effort if any do we have to take to help any of them survive since calling them 'human' means homicide happens quite a bit? We determine this by laws, by defining 'murder' - when homicide is legal and when its not. We allow executions, we allow wars, we allow 'living wills', we allow contraception methods that don't prevent fertilization, we allow abortions, we allow IVF. Even with the presumption of 'human rights' to a blastocyte the choice is obviously a measured one.
3.10.2009 3:26pm
David Drake:
Thanks Smallholder.
3.10.2009 3:31pm
Anatid:
Just a thought,

Is it okay to stand back and watch a healthy 20-year-old die of a preventable accident? From his perspective, whether or not you murdered him, he's still dead. From your perspective, of course, you feel a lot less guilty.

In this particular debate, we're talking about embryos that are going to be killed regardless. Trying to extract scientific worth from that, instead of letting their lives go completely to waste, seems like a good idea. Unlike the aforementioned convicted criminals, embryos do not have any capacity to experience suffering - the systems that would someday enable them to know fear or pain (or love) simply don't exist yet. Conducting research does not subject them to any additional harm than they will already be experiencing.
3.10.2009 3:33pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
All this says is that a fetus in state that doesn't give it legal rights doesn't have legal rights. Well yeah, but you're not really moving the ball downfield.

I don't see how it doesn't - that is the question - when do human rights begin? (the question Obama was asked by Rich Warren but McCain wasn't by the way).

Sure an atheist could think they begin at conception just as someone could think they begin before conception, that each ovum has an inherent right to be fertilized. This again is the US everyone has a right to believe anything. What they don't have a right to is say anyone else has to pretend they are right if their own actions are within the confines of the law.

I think they begin at viability, you are free to disagree, but if it does begin at conception I expect the complaints to be a coherent package - no post conception birth control methods of any kind - IUDs are just as 'immoral' as 3rd trimester abortions, as are living wills at the other end. Picking and choosing 'doesn't move the ball' either.
3.10.2009 3:40pm
Just a thought:
Anatid,

No, it's not okay to stand back and permit a preventable death (it's not as bad as actually doing the killing yourself, but it's still not okay). But I'm not sure where you are going with that argument.

As to your other question: what to do with the embryos which are just going to be discarded? Shouldn't we try to get something of value and not let them go to waste?

That is a difficult question, I admit. Personally, I err on the side of protecting human life in all its stages if we can, and so I think that embryos are human beings that deserve protection. Because of that, I'm against scientific research that would kill the embryo, because I'm against scientific research on mature human beings that would kill them. True, embryos don't feel pain, but that is not my standard for whether one can experiment on a human being or not: I'm also against experimentation on human adults who are in comas or human adults who are sedated and can't feel pain. It comes down to the fact that for me, ethical considerations sometimes trump pure utilitarian or scientific objectives. Even if science may progress by experimenting on embryos or clones or disabled or minorities, I'm against it.

So that leaves the thorny question: what to do with all the extra embryos out there? I'm not convinced as to the right solution, but I tend to think that they should just be exposed and left to die, because I think that is a better solution then keeping them frozen forever. But I could be convinced to a different solution.
3.10.2009 4:20pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Anatid,

In this particular debate, we're talking about embryos that are going to be killed regardless. Trying to extract scientific worth from that, instead of letting their lives go completely to waste, seems like a good idea.

Substitute "people" for "embryos" and you've just described the Chinese government's remarkably efficient organ-supply service. As long as someone's going to be executed anyway, why let all those useful parts go to waste?

OK, Larry Niven got there in fiction maybe a decade before the Chinese got there in fact — but who's to quibble with the logic?

Question for Anatid, Bob Van Burkleo, and others who feel this way: Anything wrong with letting a fetus gestate until just before viability (however you're defining it) and then "harvesting" it with the gestating woman's permission? There must be all sorts of valuable stuff in there — bits of bone marrow and the like, not to mention complete organs that, with a little more experimentation, we might be able to keep alive and grow to adult sizes. Also young neurons that might do some good for aging brains. Why not?

You tell me!
3.10.2009 4:49pm
Suzy (mail):
Just a thought:
Is there no moral difference between shooting a 20 year old and throwing out the petri dish containing IVF-created embryos that were screened out or not implanted? I think there is, and if there is, we have to decide what is permitted in each case.

In some circumstances it may not be acceptable to kill an embryo. However, if it is never acceptable to kill one, because it is morally equivalent to shooting the 20 year old, then we cannot allow any destruction of IVF embryos whatsoever. In addition, we face a serious dilemma about whether it would even be okay to freeze them indefinitely.
3.10.2009 4:55pm
dancingnancie (mail):
I saw this video today that shows how different news outlets are reporting the story. It's interesting to see the difference in perspectives...

http://www.newsy.com/videos/stem_cell_funding_ban_lifted/
3.10.2009 4:58pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Anatid,

I ought to have added that this

In this particular debate, we're talking about embryos that are going to be killed regardless

is true, but yesterday's news; now we're on to whether you can get Federal funding to create human embryos for the explicit purpose of experimenting on them. Our namby-pamby, anti-scientific Congress has prohibited it (the funding, not the research) since 1996, but the NYT today begs them to reconsider.
3.10.2009 5:03pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
Why not?

Can't think of a reason to disallow it, though I doubt its applications would be worth the PR costs. And of course the states would have the right to disallow it as Roe v Wade makes only the first trimester absolutely the individual's decision.

Remember, government already has the right to legislate the legality of any 2nd and 3rd trimester procedures constitutionally without even having to niggle about the rights issue.
3.10.2009 5:18pm
wfjag:
Dear Anatid:

You pose valid questions. And while I arrive at very similar conclusions to Just a thought, I arrive by a very different logic.

First, there does not appear to be a valid reason for federal money funding embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. Both ESC and adult stem cell (ASC) began in the late 1950s. Today over 200 treatments and procedures have been developed and approved for use on humans from ASC. None have been developed and approved for use on humans from ESC. As noted above, there is a limited feasibility trial for using ESCs for spinal cord injuries. However, generally even the proponents of ESC admit it will be decades (plural deliberate) before there is a reasonable expectation that treatments and procedures for humans can be developed using ESCs. There are 2 major problems with using ESCs. First is tissue rejection. Second, to suppress the rejection allows cancers to develop (because the immune system that would kill off the cancers are suppressed). I've heard it claimed that the side-effects from ESC-based treatments are likely to make the side-effects of the early HIV/AIDs treatments look like something from a health spa.

As others have noted above, advances in ASC research are leading to ways to change ASCs into any other cell in the body -- without the rejection and cancer problems.

Second, there are only limited research dollars. In addition to ASC and ESC, there is also promising research using umbilical cord blood.

And, all of this research will compete with other research also seeking federal research money.

If ESC held promise of providing treatments or procedures within a foreseeable time period, private investors would be pouring money into the research -- since the payoffs will be huge. The reason federal money is needed is because people looking at the facts conclude that it's a sucker's bet.

Turning to a "moral" argument, I am concerned about human research of any kind that isn't directly related to identifiable, possible treatments and cures. My father attended medical school not long following WWII, but long enough for the discoveries of Nazi medicine to have become known. His profs repeatedly noted that the Nazis had advanced medicine by generations. That's possible when ethical considerations are cast aside and you go straight to human experimentations without inhibitions. No pesky animal models to worry about, or worrying about how well lab animals mimic human responses. As J. Robert Oppenheimer observed -- We do things not because they are right or wrong, but primarily because we can.

People condemn Nazi eugenetics. They worried about things like "how Aryan" babies looked -- blue eyes, blond hair, shape of the nose, chin and eyes -- and whether the child was male or female and whether there were any identifiable genetic diseases (like Downs Syndrome). Does that sound like recent news reports?

You have to decide moral issues according to your values. I'm somewhat cautious as to something that looks like human experimentation since that always involves some sort of weighing of lives as to worthy life and unworthy life. Some day (I hope) I'll be old and useless (to the market place). Accordingly, I apply a precautionary principle to anything that looks like approval of human experimentation.
3.10.2009 5:33pm
trad and anon (mail):
Now if you believe that a zygote/embryo/fetus is a human being (I'm not saying you do, but just assume this position as a hypothetical), apply that same distinction and it solves your dilemma: there is nothing wrong with the fact that some zygotes/embryos/fetuses die in a miscarriage, but there is something unethical about actively killing the zygote/embryo/fetus.
The thing is that if the process of creating a human life and person started and ended at conception, every fertilized ovum that never implanted would be a tragedy. Same goes for every pregnancy that miscarried so quickly that the woman never even suspected she was pregnant.

Since the vast majority of fertilized ova die in one of those two ways, the ordinary action of the human reproductive system would be a public health crisis of the highest order. We're talking about tens (hundreds?) of millions of deaths a year in this country alone. There would be demands for pouring millions into research to ensure every fertilized embryo implants and more demands to ban sexually active women from taking any of the actions that increase the risk of nonimplantation. The issue would surpass embryonic stem cell research and gay marriage *combined*.

But in fact nobody thinks the human reproductive system is a public health crisis. I conclude that those who purport to think life begins at conception are not taking their view very seriously.
3.10.2009 5:59pm
Dan Weber (www):
A technical question (hopefully this thread has not descended too far for someone to answer it):

Does using an embryo for stem-cell research require destruction of that embryo?

I pictured plucking out some cells and letting those cells grow, not some kind of smashing of the embryo. In fact, from a scientific perspective, you would want to preserve the embryo as long as possible, in the effort to keep all the data.

Heck, you might even want to implant that embryo some day in someone, purely for scientific reasons. (With the consent of the person you are implanting it into, of course.)
3.10.2009 6:20pm

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