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Stem Cells and Science (Policy) Fiction:

I've had a busy travel and writing week, so I did not have time to comment on President Obama's stem cell policy announcement and accompanying statement on the "restoration" of "scientific integrity to government decision-making." Fortunately, Charles Krauthammer wrote an excellent column on the announcement (even if he overdid his praise of President Bush). Here's a bit of it:

Obama's address was morally unserious in the extreme. It was populated, as his didactic discourses always are, with a forest of straw men. Such as his admonition that we must resist the "false choice between sound science and moral values." Yet, exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds later he went on to declare that he would never open the door to the "use of cloning for human reproduction."

Does he not think that a cloned human would be of extraordinary scientific interest? And yet he banned it.

Is he so obtuse as not to see that he had just made a choice of ethics over science? . . . Obama did not even pretend to make the case why some practices are morally permissible and others not. . . .

Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible. Obama's pretense that he will "restore science to its rightful place" and make science, not ideology, dispositive in moral debates is yet more rhetorical sleight of hand — this time to abdicate decision-making and color his own ideological preferences as authentically "scientific."

Whether or not one agrees with the specifics of the President's new stem cell policy — Krauthammer, who found the Bush policy too restrictive, thinks the Obama policy too permissive with the use of federal funds — there is no defense of the accompanying science charade.

UPDATE: Scott Gotleib also has some advice for the Administration if it truly wants to encourage medical innovation.

Unveiling his stem-cell policy, Mr. Obama remarked that "Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident." They also, however, don't happen through federal funding alone. They require a thriving private-sector research enterprise. Pouring federal funds into basic research while at the same time blocking the path for its translation into human therapies is no way to advance medical innovation.

SECOND UPDATE: I also recommend this Prawfs post by Rick Garnett and this Prometheus post by Roger Pielke Jr.

seadrive:
Politics is conducted in a wheat field of straw men, but Krauthammer's article has little content beside some whining speculation.
3.14.2009 9:25am
martinned (mail) (www):
Here's the slightly more nuanced Prawfs blog post about this topic, including some interesting comments. (Not mine, my comments are, as usual, made unencumbered by any actual knowledge.)
3.14.2009 9:50am
Sarcastro (www):
I do like Obama's new smugness technology unveiled this past week. I hope he pairs a lot more policy decisions with statements about how Bush woulda totally screwed the decision up.
3.14.2009 9:54am
anon1234 (mail):
Obama should totally be concerned about impressing Charles Krauthammer and Jonathan Adler with his policy decisions.
3.14.2009 10:58am
KenB (mail):
Seadrive states: Krauthammer's article has little content beside some whining speculation
To the contrary, Krauthammer points out the contradiction in two Obama statements that apparently came out the same day (at least I read about them the same day).

1. Bush's decision to ban certain stem cell research was bad, because it was based on morality, not science.

2. Morality compels us to stop science from cloning human beings.

Obama said his stem cell decision was to restore the primacy of science over politics. Yet he more or less simultaneously made a morality-based decision on cloning as Bush did on stem cells. So talking about the primacy of science is claptrap. Obama disagrees with Bush's moral decision. It would have been intellectually honest to say so when overturning Bush's decision, but that would not have allowed Obama to score a cheap political point.

Krauthammer correctly notes that, if science is unfettered by morality, you get Josef Mengele. We cannot accept something just because it might advance science. We must be guided by morality. If we disagree on what morality requires, let's discuss that openly instead of hiding behind advancement of science.
3.14.2009 11:18am
corneille1640 (mail):
I agree with KenB.

Also, the idea that Bush's ban on federal funds for some embryonic stem cell research represented a conservative "war on science,"a term I've heard bandied about, is a straw man argument if ever I saw one.
3.14.2009 12:37pm
wfjag:
When did Pres. Bush "ban" any form of research? He cut off federal funds for research using newly created human embryo stem cell lines. This is qualitatively different than the categorical ban on cloning research ban Pres. Obama annouced. If the "news media" was reporting facts instead of engaging in hero worship, they might have noticed that, in fact, he did exactly what they condemned Bush for doing -- forbidding research in an area for purely "moral" reasons without any reason based in science.
3.14.2009 12:43pm
Randy R. (mail):
So I guess everyone would have been happier if Obama had allowed research into human cloning?
3.14.2009 1:48pm
Xenocles:
I was more confused by the statement than anything. How is it that harvesting human embryos for spare parts is okay and worthy of federal funding while "reproductive cloning," which results merely in a much younger twin, is so evil that it must be banned outright. The whole thing lacked any sort of logical defense. The hypocrisy of condemning science policy decisions made on fuzzy moral bases just before upholding a ban on research made on a fuzzy moral basis was just icing on the cake.
3.14.2009 2:06pm
D.O.:
Randy R.: I, for one, would. Also, has the POTUS the authority to "ban" anything? Is it not up to the Congress?
3.14.2009 2:12pm
D.O.:
Hey! Whether its me or what? Clearly for a lot of people it is more fun to read Krauthammer or Prawfs, but the original is also worth something. Nowhere there does BO imply that morality is out of the door for scientific research. He calls "false choice" not the abstract science vs. morality debate, it is quite clear that he think that the "choice" is false because the research practices he endorses are not immoral. He admits that it is an opinion, not a fact. He also thinks that this choice has been done by "[t]he majority of Americans". I like the pompous statements from politicos no more than anybody else and Obama is quite guilty sometimes, but not this time.
3.14.2009 2:47pm
John Moore (www):
Part of the mantra of Americas elites is that Republicans and conservatives are anti-science. Thus Obama's straw man is substantial to those informed only by the main stream media.

In fact, both parties engage in constraining federal funding on scientific work based on their own agendas. Bush prohibited federal funding of research on new stem cell lines. I know of someone who was pushed out of his job by Al Gore for research showing the positive benefits of increased atmospheric CO2.

Hypocrisy lives.
3.14.2009 3:10pm
SFBurke (mail):
The problem with Obama's rehtoric is that he implies that there is not in fact a "real choice". There are serious moral issues involved in embryonic stem cell issues. Obama has made the decision to draw the line based on his morality, but that doesn't make the choice made by the Bush administration "false" in any way.

As has been noted, Obama is continuing the "war on science" but he is limiting the battlefield to reproductive cloning. He can certainly set the policy he wants, but his posturing that somehow the Bush administration created a "false choice" or was anti-science is just disingenuous posturing.

@seadrive: all I can say is that Krauthmers piece had a lot more content and insight than your statement.
3.14.2009 3:18pm
poul (mail) (www):
"Obama Signs Law Banning Federal Embryo Research Two Days After Signing Executive Order to OK It" -
actual headline
3.14.2009 3:30pm
D.O.:
@SFBurke: It is not how I understand Obama's stance. Apparently you and many others think that destroying a human embrion on purpose is immoral, but you can discuss a trade-off with the scientific value of such an action. But others, including Obama, do not think that it is immoral (under some conditions, of course) at all. Hence, false choice.
3.14.2009 3:45pm
seadrive:

How is it that harvesting human embryos for spare parts is okay and worthy of federal funding while "reproductive cloning," which results merely in a much younger twin, is so evil that it must be banned outright.


I think that there would scientific evidence for at least a temporary ban on the grounds that cloned animals have a high percentage of abnormalities and shorter than average life expectancy. But I believe this, and most of Obama's statement, is designed to reflect the consensus of the voters as perceived in the White House.
3.14.2009 3:48pm
neurodoc:
The achievements of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are monumental. But its efforts only translate into practical benefits for patients if its scientific research can be turned into new medicines, something that's not part of the agency's mandate. By its own recent count, the NIH cites only 84 examples over the last 60 years where the agency -- or academic institutions it supports -- discovered, let alone developed, a new drug or biologic.
Before taking up residence at the American Enterprise Institute and offering his ideological perspective on medicine, Dr. Gottlieb was an FDA deputy commissioner (political appointee?) and now works for a firm that invests in health-care companies. I don't know if he ever spent any time at NIH, as I did for 3+ years, but experience of NIH isn't necessary to see this for the nonsense that it is.

First, discovery and/or development of new drugs is, as Dr. Gottlieb acknowledges, not NIH's mission anymore than it is the mission of our top universities to get patents, though they do get many of them. But NIH's scientific research regularly leads to the the discovery and development of new drugs. I expect that many more than those 84 drugs identified as the immediate products of NIH can be counted as fruits of research done at NIH (intramural) and in labs elsewhere funded by NIH (extramural). Then, it is clearly N-O-T true that NIH's research "efforts only translate into practical benefits for patients if its scientific research can be turned into new medicines."

NIH supports clinical trials of various treatment interventions, not all pharmacologic ones, and benefits patients greatly by determining which are superior and which are inferior. It conducts and funds epidemiologic research that often "translate into practical benefits for patients." It does research on new ways of treating diseases with "old" medicines. It contributes to the development of imaging.

How can Dr. Gottlieb, who surely must know better, make such an egregiously wrong assertion...he's selling an ideological point of view.

I'll go read Krauthammer in a bit, and I expect as I almost always am, I will think he has made a good case for his position. But anyone arguing that during the science/medicine didn't suffer from politicization during the Bush years will have a hard time convincing me.
3.14.2009 3:51pm
Michael B (mail):
D.O.,

It would appear you're much impressed with Pres. Obama's dazzle and razzle - his obfuscating rhetoric, or (and?) perhaps Obama himself is confused and actually believes in his own carefully crafted trumpery - and similarly are not given to comprehending the import of Krauthammer's piece.

A lota' that goin' 'round: rhetorical dazzle, rhetorical razzle - and accompanying incomprehensions evidenced by media talking heads and listeners alike.

This issue - perhaps more than any other domestic issue - is an issue that,

1) should be shorn entirely of partisan sniping and gaming - yet Obama is not only incapable of resisting that impulse, he leverages partisanship from the very beginning, from the outset,

2) should likewise be attentive to eschewing any obfuscating rhetoric whatsoever, certainly so when it comes to the science/morality set of issues (which are not "abstract" issues, they are extraordinarily practical and difficult moral/ethical conundrums that need to be squarely faced by virtue of lucid articulations, not partisan leveragings and other vague and obfuscating forms,

3) should, finally, now in a positive and assertive manner seek as much technical and moral clarity as a politician - in a representative democracy - can possibly convey.

In none of those categories can Obama's communication be recommended. By contrast and as Krauthammer rightly emphasizes, Pres. Bush's address on this same issue can be recommended, minimally, in terms of the technical and moral clarity it articulates.

This would suggest - given the gravity of what is being addressed on technical, medical and moral/ethical levels, including the conundrums, paradoxes and unknowables involved - that Obama himself is confused and incapable of marshalling the gravitas the subject demands. And if he cannot marshal the requisite gravitas when it comes to this particular set of issues, then it again confirms a similar inability when it came to his Carteresque overtures toward Russia and the anti-missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, his overture toward Iran, appointments such as exampled in Samantha Power and Chas Freeman - or Holdren and Browner in other science related areas, etc., etc.

Likewise, if this is the type of non-clarity we can expect when it comes to the stem cell debates, what can we expect when it comes to the potential for hundreds of billions to be leveraged when it comes to the AGW debates?

Perhaps Obama can take an online course that teaches appropriate levels of gravitas and intellectual and moral seriousness. Perhaps there's another, one that can serve to de-program him of Chicago-styled political sensibilities, at least when the subject matter calls for a more serious and more sober-minded approach.
3.14.2009 4:34pm
AF:
I'm going to go write an article about how people who justify animal testing in the name of science are being hypocritical, because they don't support testing on human babies. As an argument against animal testing.
3.14.2009 4:50pm
D.O.:
@Michael B.: BO is a politician, not a philosopher. How the national money are spent is clearly a political point. Pro new-embryonic-stem-cell-research (uf!) side has it now in White House and in Congress. What kind of gravitas and clarity do you want? The question was debated and explored thoroughly. It was in the Democratic platform for elections that they won. What else? You can go to SCOTUS and ask them to pronounce a human life beginning at conception or at whatever point you think is appropriate. Try it. I do mean it. I have zero competence to talk about "standing" or whatever you need, but it should not be a problem. Make Texas (or whatever) legislature prohibit the stem cell research on the basis of when human life begins and it will end up with our Supreme Islamic Council (sorry, cheap shot).
The point is that Obama did not announce that he will substitute scientific discovery for political process and moral standing, he would be an idiot if he thought that it is possible, and he would take us for idiots if he thought we can believe it. He did neither. "Restoring science to its rightful place" means that scientific basis of a policy, if it needs one, will be researched without pressure from the administration (for whatever it worth, I doubt it, but it is a matter of a degree also).
As to razzle/dazzle it has been kept to a minimum, imho.
3.14.2009 6:28pm
D.O.:
Clarification. "Human life begins at (fill in blank)" was to sloppy. Let's say "a potential human life, which therefore has some though not all constitutional protections, begins at (fill in the blank) including instances when conceived artificially". To leave a room for IVF you can add something about "with the sole purpose of destruction" somewhere. Don't hold me to the language. Lawyers are good at polishing all that.
3.14.2009 6:40pm
Sagar:
D.O,

I agree with your statements about who won the elections and therefore who has the power to shape policy (and funding).

But the razzle/dazzle was not kept to a minimum ... except where it was necessary to hide Obama's actual deeds as opposed to the rhetoric. The razzle/dazzle is about "restoring science to its rightful place" and all the bullshit, as if Bush "banned" all research on stem cells - that is the impression he and his minions in the media are giving off to the general population. The reality is a couple of days after the rhetoric, he signed the $410 billion spending bill which has provisions that "ban federal funding on stemcell research that results in destruction of new embryos". (please see the link in Poul's post @ 3.30pm).

This was Bush's position and now, for all practical purposes, is the Govt's current position. So, where and how is obama "restoring science to its rightful place?"
I understand Obama is a pol and this is what pols do - but his acting like he is above it all and then engaging in politics as usual is hope &change.
3.14.2009 11:00pm
D.O.:
Sagar,
I am mightily confused. If the news story you cite is to be believed, it all makes no sense. Why would Obama ban research after pronouncing that it will be actively pursued? To pacify embryonic research enthusiasts? They will find out in short time. Sure, grant proposals are being dusted out starting November last. And why do we have this executive order controversy if "Dickey-Wicker amendment" does what they say it is doing from 1996? Here what an article in Wikipedia says:
"Even though embryos are always destroyed in the process of harvesting [embryonic stem cells], the Clinton Administration decided that it would be permissible under the Dickey Amendment to fund hESC research as long as such research did not itself directly cause the destruction of an embryo."
This is too lawyerly to me. Does it mean that stem cells can be derived from an embryo (which is invariably destructed), but embryo can not be destructively studied in its own self? Anyways, the question is whether new stem-cell lines will be derived or not, not under what kind of lawyer-talk it will be permitted. By the way, it seems that Krauthammer's concern is covered under Dickey, so his stance can be denounced as "razzle-dazzle" (imho, he is just not informed).
3.15.2009 12:04am
cognitis:
"...forest of strawmen..." and "...unserious in the extreme..." Why would anyone read further? I am ignorant of this Krauthammer, but he needs desperately to attend a Freshman writing class.
3.15.2009 1:13am
Suzy (mail):
D.O., I read it the same way that you did. Obama says he will not accept a false choice between sound science and moral values. That literally means that he does not always think we have to choose one or the other, but that both demands can be satisfied at the same time.

That does not mean that cloning is "sound science", does it? Krauthammer claims that Obama contradicts himself here because a cloned human "would be of extraordinary scientific interest". However, why must we accept that anything interesting is sound science? That's incompatible with what Obama actually said, so if you want to talk "forest of straw men", I think Krauthammer is lost there himself.

Krauthammer gives even more evidence that he's attributing a straw man to Obama when he says that Obama claimed he was going to "make science, not ideology, dispositive in moral debates". In other words, K. accepts the premise that there's a "false choice" between science and morality in these debates, which is what Obama denied. He then sticks Obama with the straw man view that the only grounds for a decision is science, so that he can point out that Obama is actually bringing moral considerations to bear. Right, that's because Obama says both can be compatible--it's not a false choice!
3.15.2009 10:16am
Suzy (mail):
Along the same lines, it's kind of funny to me that Garnett's response is recommended above, since it directly contradicts Krauthammer's accusations. Garnett seems to understand that Obama is not trying to remove morality entirely from the debates about research, but is applying a different moral standard than Bush did here.
3.15.2009 10:34am
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
D.O.,

As I understand the situation, it's like this. What Bush did was to deny Federal funding to research that used stem cell lines derived from embryos destroyed after the date of his order (allowing such funding for stem cell lines already created). What Congress had been doing for several years previous is denying Federal funding for research that directly destroyed human embryos itself, or created them in order to experiment on them.

Apparently that's still the case, so that all Obama has actually done is allow funding for research on hESC lines created after Bush's ban; he hasn't authorized the creation of new lines with Federal money.

Question for those who think Bush's policy represented insufferable moralistic interference with science: Can you parse the distinction between (a) allowing funding for the use of hESC lines created before your decision, but disallowing funding for use of hESC lines created later; and (b) allowing funding for use of hESC lines whenever created, but not funding of the creation itself — in such a way that one represents insufferable moralistic interference with science and one doesn't?

I can't. Both positions appear squeamish about Federal money going directly towards disassembling human embryos, or creating them for experimental purposes: One merely permits others to do the (so to speak) dirty work, allowing Federally funded research on the results, while the other actively discourages the "dirty work" by insisting that research using the proceeds of any new such work won't get funded. Why this is — indeed, how it can be — represented as a triumph of "science" over "moralism" is beyond me.
3.15.2009 12:46pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Michelle: Why this is — indeed, how it can be — represented as a triumph of "science" over "moralism" is beyond me.


I think Suzy has made good points that address your question. After all, 1) no one expects a U.S. President to utterly forego moral evaluation of any policy; 2) Obama is trying to find a balance between the progress of science research and moral restraint.
Arguably, Bush did something like this in his bizarre ruling [which you note]. However, most researchers felt that the Bush ruling was too limiting and many ethicists thought it was senseless. It seemed to be an effort to slowly kill stem cell research without the political costs of openly killing it.

Many ethicists, on the other hand, do believe there is a real moral distinction between creating embryos for the purpose of research and using embryos 'otherwise' created. Those ethicists often make the analogy to a distinction between doing research on anencephalic neonates and creating such neonates for the purpose of doing research.

You may be unpersuaded by the moral argument, but it is not entirely implausible. By contrast, there is no morally relevant distinction between embryos created before a certain date and those created after that date, which was the Bush policy.
3.15.2009 3:35pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
ChrisTS,

Many ethicists, on the other hand, do believe there is a real moral distinction between creating embryos for the purpose of research and using embryos 'otherwise' created. Those ethicists often make the analogy to a distinction between doing research on anencephalic neonates and creating such neonates for the purpose of doing research.

But that isn't what the distinction in the bill Obama just signed — one that, as I understand it, has been in every appropriations bill since 1996 — is about. It isn't "Will we fund research that involves making embryos and then destroying them?," but "Will we fund research that involves destroying embryos?" The bill just passed says "no" to both. What Bush said "no" to was a third thing: "Will we fund research that involves other people, from this point onward, destroying embryos, even if we don't fund the destruction itself?"

In other words, so far as I can see, the current state of the law is still that no Federal funds can be used to convert frozen, otherwise-to-be-discarded human embryos into stem cell lines — and that that's been true since 1996, under Clinton. What has changed is that if someone else (w/o Federal funding) happens to use frozen, otherwise-to-be-discarded human embryos (or any other human embryos, for that matter) to create a line of stem cells, there is no longer any bar to Federal funding for research using that line.

The distinction isn't about what's being destroyed to create the research material; it's about who paid for the destruction (as opposed to the subsequent research made possible by it) and when.

Look, it's quite possible I have this wrong, so if anyone can contradict me, please do. As I understand it, Obama just signed a law that, among other things, forbids the use of Federal funds for any research that directly destroys human embryos or converts them into research material — whatever their origin, whether created for specific research purposes or salvaged from fertility clinics' discards.

If it's not true, please tell me so. If it is, please explain how this represents science being emancipated from the shackles of ideology — because I sure don't see it.
3.15.2009 5:31pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
ChrisTS,

Sorry — forgot to address this:

By contrast, there is no morally relevant distinction between embryos created before a certain date and those created after that date, which was the Bush policy.

No, it wasn't. The distinction was between stem cell lines created before his decision and after it. The date the embryo came into existence had nothing to do with it.

Bush was in the same position as anyone has to be when dealing with the results of what appears to him to be unethical, but nonetheless well-conducted science: Do you throw out the results, even though they might help other people in the future, simply because they were obtained (in your view) unethically? Do you reject all the proceeds of an unethical practice as tainted, or do you just forbid the practice going forward, but permit the previous results of it to be used?

That's what he did, anyway (though naturally he couldn't "forbid" the practice, only the use of Federal funds in furthering it), and it's an approach that has a reasonably long philosophical pedigree. Without wishing to Godwinize what's left of this thread, I must point out that there's a lot of science out there that's meticulously documented, but fortunately unlikely to be replicated soon; and there has always been a debate about how much of that knowledge we were entitled to use; and there have always been people who said, "Well, all of it, so long as we use it for good, and refuse ever to use these means again." That was the Bush position. Bloody unscientific, isn't it?
3.15.2009 5:48pm
Michael B (mail):
"Michael B.: BO is a politician, not a philosopher." D.O.

Yes, he's essentially a very junior senator, schooled in Chicago-land politiking and recently ascendent to the executive, largely by virtue of a still continuing media bubble and ardor - one, further, who is impressing leaders in Russia, Iran, Venezuela, China and elsewhere as reflecting a Carteresque naivete and corresponding policy initiatives, both on the international front and as applied domestically, as the Chinese Premier has emphasized vis-a-vis the trillions of dollars that are at issue. And that's descriptively accurate, not an exercise in hyperbole.

Hence I emphasized a set of three very similar issues, all meta-issues because they concern, qualitatively, how stem cell related topics are articulated, by an executive, to the public, in our democratic republic.

Stem cell related issues are not issues that can be resolved in a formulaic/deductive and technocratic manner and most certainly not by virtue of invoking hackneyed, unilluminating forms of partisanship. Indeed, the presumptively technocratic approach to these issues - often purporting to represent the arbiters of "reason" and "science" - is one that seeks to leverage governmental and bureaucratic/budgetary power in general via those obfuscating forms rather than cogent, well clarified articulations that responsibly weigh both technical/scientific matters together with valid moral/ethical weightings as applied to embryo valuations and human life valuations in general.

You addressed none of that. That's fine, I'm not asking you do so, but the meta-issues are what was being addressed. As to the policy itself, beyond the partisan and obfuscating rhetoric and the underlying lack of gravitas, it likewise is blurred - for example by virtue of the recently passed and signed budgetary omnibus bill.
3.15.2009 7:40pm
SeaDrive:

This issue - perhaps more than any other domestic issue - is an issue that...


This is the voice of frustration that what is most important to you is less important to others. Most of weight of the original post and of the comments boils down to complaining that Obama's statement did not have the logical crispness and completeness that the reader would have liked to see. True enough, it wouldn't (at least shouldn't) get a high grade from a Harvard professor of philosophy, but mostly political statements don't. As I read it, it conflates a well-earned, general dissatisfaction with the Bush administration attitude toward science with narrow questions concerning stem cell research. Hardly surprising.
3.16.2009 9:51am
martinned (mail) (www):
Here's the editorial on this matter from my Dutch newspaper, conveniently translated by the paper itself:

The Dutch stem cell taboo
Published: 13 March 2009
EDITORIAL

The decision by US president Obama to resume federal funding for stem cell research reminds one of the situation in the Netherlands, where scientists in this field are handicapped for political and religious reasons. Unlike some other countries, including the US, the test tube creation of embryos solely for scientific research is prohibited in the Netherlands.

The present government ratified this ban in 2007 in the Dutch government's coalition agreement, between Christian Democrats, Labour and orthodox ChristenUnie. As a result, a situation that already existed when the 'purple' government [a previous Dutch coalition of all secular parties] was in power has been perpetuated. The Embryo Law, which became effective in 2002, included such a prohibition clause, but a rider was added that it could be quickly (via Royal Decree) repealed based on new scientific insights and understandings.

Unfortunately, the successive coalitions of prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende have not exercised that option. This is not surprising, because the non-denominational majority in parliament has, on this issue, been kept under the thumb of the Christian Democrats and the ChristenUnie, which, just as SGP [a fundamentalist Protestant political party], believe that the use of embryos "is only acceptable when it is directed towards contributing to the welfare of a new life," as member of parliament Esmé Wiegman-Van Meppelen Scheppink (ChristenUnie) said in a debate in 2007.

The fact that embryonic stem cells may possibly contribute to the cure or control of diseases such as Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Down Syndrome, Parkinson's, and spinal chord injuries, and thus towards improving the quality of existing life, carries less weight for the supporters of the ban.

The Netherlands, thus, has to rely, for its use of embryonic stem cells, on embryos left over after in vitro fertilisation treatments. It is unfortunate that the latent political majority that opposes the embryo ban does not know how to translate this into a parliamentary decision process.

Yet, there is a glimmer of hope for patients. The journal Science, at the end of 2008, named as the "the breakthrough of the year" the genetic modification of human skin cells, which develop embryonic stem cell characteristics. Japanese stem cell researchers have developed this technique.

Deputy minister for health Jet Bussenmaker (Labour), has previously indicated, to be sure, that she does not consider such "adult stem cells," or "iPS-cells," to be embryos that are covered by the Embryo Law. And she decided at the end of last year to implement another part of the coalition agreement: to provide a powerful stimulus to the prospects-rich research into the use of body stem cells. She made 22.4 million euros available for the "Translational Adult Stem Cell Research" program.

It remains to be seen what results this brings. In the meantime, one continues to hope that the ban on the development of embryos for scientific research will be off the table. Patients need not suffer unnecessarily long from diseases as a result of someone else's religious beliefs.
3.16.2009 10:28am
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
SeaDrive,

Most of weight of the original post and of the comments boils down to complaining that Obama's statement did not have the logical crispness and completeness that the reader would have liked to see. True enough, it wouldn't (at least shouldn't) get a high grade from a Harvard professor of philosophy, but mostly political statements don't. As I read it, it conflates a well-earned, general dissatisfaction with the Bush administration attitude toward science with narrow questions concerning stem cell research. Hardly surprising.

I don't absolutely need "logical crispness and completeness" from a Presidential statement; on the other hand, I'd prefer the President not to chew his predecessor out for letting ideology/morals/religion get in the way of science when the only difference between the bill he just signed and Bush's stated position is that while the bill and Bush's position both draw an ideological/moral/religious line, they put it in slightly different positions.
3.16.2009 11:28am
zuch (mail) (www):
Krauthammer:
Does he not think that a cloned human would be of extraordinary scientific interest? And yet he banned it.
No, it wouldn't be of "extraordinary scientific interest." It would be of human interest to the same folks as clone their Fidos and Fluffys ... but that is precisely the reason why we really don't want this taking off. And Krauthammer's accusing Obama of being morally obtuse?!?!?

Cheers,
3.16.2009 12:26pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
zuch,

Of course cloned humans would be of "extraordinary scientific interest." You need think only of all the studies of heredity vs. environment that have hitherto been done only by happenstance, using the vanishingly rare case of identical twins reared apart. Here you would have a case of people with identical genomes raised, provably, in completely different environments. You don't think that would be interesting to any scientist?

And, anyway, you're missing Krauthammer's point. If Obama had said that there would be Federal funding for any research scientists urged as scientifically interesting, with no ethical bounds on such research, he and his supporters would have grounds for claiming that they had overturned the last Administration's subordination of "science" to "morality" or "ideology" or "religion" or whatever. In fact they left in place strictures about who would pay for what sort of research that it's impossible to justify purely on scientific lines, and a ban on reproductive cloning that you yourself justify along lines that have nothing to do with whether scientific progress would stem from the research or not.
3.16.2009 1:59pm
Michael B (mail):
"This is the voice of frustration that what is most important to you is less important to others." SeaDrive

Not remotely so. In fact, you've shown that your own is the voice of a contented incomprehension.

You are (obviously) free to disagree, likewise you're free to support your disagreement with a supportive argument, but to merely and presumptively psychologize someone's argument and opinion, absent a sound reason to do so, is nothing to be taken seriously.
3.16.2009 2:55pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson:
Of course cloned humans would be of "extraordinary scientific interest." You need think only of all the studies of heredity vs. environment that have hitherto been done only by happenstance, using the vanishingly rare case of identical twins reared apart. Here you would have a case of people with identical genomes raised, provably, in completely different environments. You don't think that would be interesting to any scientist?
You're assuming much more than simple cloning. FWIW, we have studies of ITRA. Yes, if we wanted to study heritability, we could put ITs and non-ITs into various environments (you do need your controls, you know), and maybe that would be "interesting" to someone (such as some such "studies" suggested in the 30s, I guess). Obviously, there are limits to what can ethically be done here, but such limits have little to do with cloning; they're just as impermissible for ITs as for clones ... and clones add some extra variables [consider, e.g., "Dolly"'s eventual fate].
And, anyway, you're missing Krauthammer's point. If Obama had said that there would be Federal funding for any research scientists urged as scientifically interesting, with no ethical bounds on such research, he and his supporters would have grounds for claiming that they had overturned the last Administration's subordination of "science" to "morality" or "ideology" or "religion" or whatever....
Well, if you accept krauthammer's "straw man" and think that Omaba said something he didn't.
...In fact they left in place strictures about who would pay for what sort of research that it's impossible to justify purely [here's the root of your "straw man"] on scientific lines, and a ban on reproductive cloning that you yourself justify along lines that have nothing to do with whether scientific progress would stem from the research or not.
Obama was commenting on the fact that the CRW and the Republicans in their thrall have insisted not in some rational evaluations, but rather on a "[my specific] religion trumps all other concerns, even scientific and medical, even where the medical benefits may actually accrue to the benefit of mankind and thus be ethically defencible". What Krauthammer is arguing for is an ethics that vetoes any scientific and practical considerations. Obama is not advocating "science ist alles ... and uber alles", he's saying that ethics should have input from science, not just the Holey Babble (as some interpret it). I'd hope, BTW, that this extends to telling the YECers that they are nutcases and in need of good neuroleptics.

Cheers,
3.16.2009 3:25pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
zuch,

Obama was commenting on the fact that the CRW and the Republicans in their thrall have insisted not in some rational evaluations, but rather on a "[my specific] religion trumps all other concerns, even scientific and medical, even where the medical benefits may actually accrue to the benefit of mankind and thus be ethically defencible".

But what has Obama actually done? The ban on federal funding of research that destroys embryos, as I understand it, remains in place. All that's changed is that now research using hESC lines created after Bush's ban was put in place can be federally funded. Research that itself involves the destruction of human embryos still cannot be.

Can you defend that distinction in the terms you just laid out? Either there's an ethical problem with destroying human embryos for scientific purposes, or there isn't. If there isn't, why shouldn't the government fund such research? If there is, then isn't Bush's position (basically "You can build on the data we have from such research as has already taken place, but we won't encourage any more of it by allowing you to use the results of new research with our money") the best one?
3.16.2009 3:53pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson:
But what has Obama actually done? The ban on federal funding of research that destroys embryos, as I understand it, remains in place. All that's changed is that now research using hESC lines created after Bush's ban was put in place can be federally funded. Research that itself involves the destruction of human embryos still cannot be.
I think you misstate the case:
You can still hear the popping of the champagne corks. President Obama, surrounded by an exuberant and celebratory crowd peppered with notables of all political persuasion, has lifted former President Bush's ban on federal funding of research on human embryos for stem cell work. But Obama's remarks left the door open for embryo research that involves more than the frozen embryos left over from in vitro fertilization that Congress and most of the public seem to support: After all, these would be discarded anyway. What's on the table now is whether scientists should be able to use federal dollars to create human embryos for the sole purpose of laboratory research, including harvesting their stem cells.
In either case, embryos are "destroyed". What's on the table is whether new embryos can be specifically created for purposes of stem cell research ... and Obama hasn't ruled that out.
Can you defend that distinction in the terms you just laid out? Either there's an ethical problem with destroying human embryos for scientific purposes, or there isn't. If there isn't, why shouldn't the government fund such research? If there is, then isn't Bush's position (basically "You can build on the data we have from such research as has already taken place, but we won't encourage any more of it by allowing you to use the results of new research with our money") the best one?
Seeing as I think you're working on mistaken facts, perhaps you'll reconsider your question. But I don't see any problem with working on "left-over" embryos ... and to be honest, I don't see much of a problem with people donating eggs for creation of embryos for the specific purpose of stem cell research; it's like donating biopsy tissue or blood for research, and we don't ban such as long as institutional HBM ethical guidelines are followed. But that's just me; YMMV.

But I'd note you haven't addressed my complaint about Krauthammer's/your "straw man". There is no binary choice here: "Either religion or science" (and there couldn't be, seeing as -- at the very least -- religions speak with more than one voice here). Obama has rejected the "religion trumps all" approach, but has certainly left a place for ethics (and even religious sentiment) in the discussion. Do you agree with this or do you disagree? If you disagree, how so?

Cheers,
3.16.2009 4:29pm
Michael B (mail):
zuch,

Dullishly uncomprehending.

For example, there was no "religion trumps all" approach formerly, likewise there was no mere "religious sentiment" being expressed. Even to the contrary. (Pres. Bush's earlier comments, which were roundly applauded at the time and not only by Krauthammer presently, for example here.)

Sneer and arrogate all you care, but your own academicized and presumptively sneering sentiments are shallow - and stultifyingly dullish.
3.16.2009 5:05pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
zuch,

Had you read the whole thread here, you'd have seen mention of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which as I understand it has been included in every spending bill since FY 1996, and bans federal funding of

research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death[.]

The amendment is apparently in the 2009 Omnibus Spending Bill, which Obama signed last Thursday. If I'm wrong here, please correct me; but I think I stated the current requirements for federal funding of hESC research, and their difference from those under Bush, correctly.

As for whether Obama has left "a place for ethics ... in the discussion": Of course he has. Any sane person would. What I object to is that he and his supporters want it to look like a difference in kind when it's (thankfully) only a difference in degree. We are to applaud the new administration that takes science seriously and scoff at the old one that didn't. Whereas actually both "listen[ed] to science," but diverged on what to do with the information.
3.16.2009 5:24pm
SeaDrive:
Michael B: Your own skill at the presumptive sneer is not to be discounted.
3.16.2009 5:30pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
And yet, SeaDrive, you don't answer my own point from yesterday, which I just reiterated to zuch. If Bush's policy was wrong, it must be because there's nothing wrong with using existing human embryos for experimental purposes. But if that's so, then why is the current policy right? I can see an ethical argument for Bush's policy, but the one we have right now — not so much.
3.16.2009 5:39pm
Michael B (mail):
Throwing additional light on the broader topic of science and science funding - from another angle still, David Shaywitz, former endocrinologist and stem cell researcher at Harvard, writing in the WaPo, excerpt:

"A lot of science, it turns out, can't withstand serious scrutiny. Thoughtful analysis by John Ioannidis suggests that more than half of published scientific research findings can't be replicated by other researchers."

[...]

"Above all, university research needs to be recognized for what it is: an intensely competitive business, employing people who are desperately seeking recognition and frequently leveraging preliminary data that deserve to be taken with a large grain of salt."

[...]

"... it is critical that Obama -- who pledged in his inaugural address to "restore science to its rightful place" and who vowed just this week to "harness the power of science to achieve our goals" -- not reach for the other extreme and embrace politically attractive but preliminary reports because they happen to be wrapped in garlands of knowledge."

In other words, facile and too eager arrogations of "science," "reason," etc. to a variety of causes, from GW to stem cell research to yet other causes celebre can reflect manifold motivations, many of them not at all conducive to or consonant with science, medicine, health, etc.

Hence, another angle worthy of consideration.

Also, some basic human stem cell considerations:

+ Previously, nothing was banned, rather, federal funding was withheld and only upon new human embryonic stem cell strains.

+ Likewise, "human embryonic stem cell research is just a subset of stem cell research. Stem cells can be found everywhere — bone marrow, blood, fat, and skin all contain stem cells and umbilical cord blood has very pluripotent stem cells. Embryonic stem cell research is one part of this research. Every other kind of stem cell research continued to receive federal grant money." Source.

+ "... embryonic stem cell research may be history anyway because it’s unnecessary." Ibid. (Again referencing the adult stem cells from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, etc.)

+ Pres. Obama conveyed a decidedly mendacious and partisan view of Pres. Bush's former executive order when he stated, “Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” Ibid. Obama's partisan leveragings and deceits do not help promote science and do not serve honest discourse in general.

+ Govt. funding in one area necessarily diverts funding to another area.

+ "... science is not an unqualified good, and scientific ends do not justify any and all means. It is not "manipulation" or "coercion" or "ideology" to insist that scientific research -- especially when funded by taxpayers -- be restrained by moral and ethical guardrails. The absence of those guardrails can lead to such abominations as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, ..." Source.

+ Likewise, "[i]n the case of stem cells, there are more than 150 private companies trying to turn stem cells into new treatments. But almost all of the companies pursuing this sort of chancy science are small biotechnology companies -- the kind that rely on private venture capital in order to fund their high-risk and expensive endeavors." Source. None of those 150 private companies have been impacted because they were not subject to govt. funding in the first place.

+ Similarly, "[t]hat [private] capital may well start shifting to other enterprises as the Obama administration unveils policies that diminish the incentives to invest in new medical products. There's precedent for the availability of this sort of capital to turn on a proverbial dime. Shortly after President Bill Clinton unveiled his proposal for nationalizing the health insurance market in the 1990s (with similar limits on access to medical care as in the Obama plan), biotech venture capital fell by more than a third in a single year, and the value of biotech stocks fell 40%. It took three years for the "Biocentury" stock index to recover. Not surprisingly, many companies went out of business." Ibid.

Information. Genuine forms of science. Moral/ethical concerns honestly weighed. All of it transparently and honestly conveyed, not via partisan arrogations and vacuous sneers and disdain.
3.16.2009 5:55pm
Michael B (mail):
"Your own skill ..." SeaDrive

No, I did not do so. I argued my case on substantial, coherent and cogent grounds such that one may agree or disagree based upon those more substantially argued grounds - and not based upon some form of rank, sneering, tout court dismissiveness.
3.16.2009 6:03pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michael B:
For example, there was no "religion trumps all" approach formerly, likewise there was no mere "religious sentiment" being expressed. Even to the contrary. (Pres. Bush's earlier comments, which were roundly applauded at the time and not only by Krauthammer presently, for example here.)
From your link:
"The issue is debated within the church, with people of different faiths, even many of the same faith, coming to different conclusions.

[...]

As I thought through this issue I kept returning to two fundamental questions. First, are these frozen embryos human life and therefore something precious to be protected? And second, if they're going to be destroyed anyway, shouldn't they be used for a greater good, for research that has the potential to save and improve other lives?

I've asked those questions and others of scientists, scholars, bio-ethicists, religious leaders, doctors, researchers, members of Congress, my Cabinet and my friends. I have read heartfelt letters from many Americans. I have given this issue a great deal of thought, prayer, and considerable reflection, and I have found widespread disagreement.

[...]

"My position on these issues is shaped by deeply held beliefs. I'm a strong supporter of science and technology, and believe they have the potential for incredible good – to improve lives, to save life, to conquer disease. Research offers hope that millions of our loved ones may be cured of a disease and rid of their suffering. I have friends whose children suffer from juvenile diabetes. Nancy Reagan has written me about President Reagan's struggle with Alzheimer's. My own family has confronted the tragedy of childhood leukemia. And like all Americans, I have great hope for cures.

"I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our creator. I worry about a culture that devalues life, and believe as your president I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world."
And then he banned any federal funding of work with any new stem cell lines.

There may not be an explicit "religion trumps all" there (although don't micturate on me and tell me it's raining; we all know where the 'ethics' here came from and what it said). But it is an example of "religion trumps common sense" at the very least; thousands of these pre-born human chil... -- ummm, sorry, "embryos" -- are discarded all the time (or even ordered destroyed by court order in some cases), and he didn't do a damn thing about that 'holocaust'. And this is the common sense that Obama has brought back to the White House. Thank goodness for that.
Dullishly uncomprehending.
Are you indicating some impediment there, or was there an intended insult?

Cheers,
3.16.2009 6:08pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson:
zuch,

Had you read the whole thread here, you'd have seen mention of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which as I understand it has been included in every spending bill since FY 1996, and bans federal funding of
... research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death[.]
Which doesn't ban embryonic stem cell research [but arguably limits funding for creation of new stem cell lines using federal money]. But Obama can only reverse previous executive orders; for legislation, he needs Congress to pass it first. So imputing his views on this Congressional provision is a but unfair.

Dubya banned all federally funded research using such lines, not just the creation of such.
What I object to is that [Obama] and his supporters want it to look like a difference in kind when it's (thankfully) only a difference in degree.
We could get all semantic about whether teh difference between "some" and "all" is a matter of "kind" or "degree". But no need. It is a difference of "kind", in my mind. The 'logic' here, regardless of Dubya's waffling, is that he'd ban any research that involved destroying "embryos" regardless of whether they were even proven to produce therapeutically useful cell lines, and it all comes down to "the sanctity of all human life". Just as he'd ban any use of cells (or organs) derived from an adult human (involuntarily) to save another life or lives, he banned such (and banned such use even indirectly through the prohibition of use of the "fruits" of such because of the alleged 'incentive' provided by such use). This is the religious absolutism sneaking in, and thank goodness, we're leaving that by the wayside.

Cheers,
3.16.2009 6:24pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michael B quotes David Shaywitz
"A lot of science, it turns out, can't withstand serious scrutiny. Thoughtful analysis by John Ioannidis suggests that more than half of published scientific research findings can't be replicated by other researchers."
What a LOC. No other way to phrase it.

Cheers,
3.16.2009 6:28pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michael B:
In other words, facile and too eager arrogations of "science," "reason," etc. to a variety of causes, from GW to stem cell research to yet other causes celebre can reflect manifold motivations, many of them not at all conducive to or consonant with science, medicine, health, etc.
This is what's called "projection".

Cheers,
3.16.2009 6:30pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michael B:
+ Likewise, "human embryonic stem cell research is just a subset of stem cell research. Stem cells can be found everywhere — bone marrow, blood, fat, and skin all contain stem cells and umbilical cord blood has very pluripotent stem cells. Embryonic stem cell research is one part of this research. Every other kind of stem cell research continued to receive federal grant money." Source.

+ "... embryonic stem cell research may be history anyway because it’s unnecessary." Ibid. (Again referencing the adult stem cells from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, etc.)
I covered that here a while back. Detailed ethical discussion for those interested. ;-)

Just a FYI for the sake of accuracy, though: You don't get "adult stem cells" from umbilical cord blood.

Cheers,
3.16.2009 6:37pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michael B:
Pres. Obama conveyed a decidedly mendacious and partisan view of Pres. Bush's former executive order when he stated, “Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”
I think Obama was referrign to Dubya's overall "science" policy, not just the stem cell executive order. You know, things like funding infomercials, and putting gags on gummint scientists....

Cheers,
3.16.2009 6:40pm
seadrive:
Michelle Dulak Thomson: I was going to bow out of this thread, but since you ask a direct question, I'll try to answer. I don't know what Obama believes in his private heart, but I think his public position is in accord with what he believes is the political consensus. I am not aware of any forum or poll or election which would show a broad agreement among the voting public for human cloning. In fact, I think there that the opposite is true, the consensus is that we shouldn't go there. I think it is quite likely that the private Obama shares that preference, but of course, I have no evidence.

I can not put my finger on any exact reason why so many people feel that human cloning is unacceptable. Surely there is a religious component ("Don't meddle with God's business."). The same thinking has been incorporated into secular notions of right and wrong (which mostly have atavistic religious origins). The prospect of human cloning carries unpleasant whiffs of excessive ego, and it seems somehow incestuous.

(I will also note, as I did somewhere above, that animal clones have not been free of health problems, so that, medically, the technology is not ready. This is a separate point, however.)

The consensus notions of the public concerning the right and wrong of human reproduction research and medical practice are rife with contradiction. Ethics, practiced as a rigorous discipline, reveals frequent and stunning problems with "common sense" approaches to all kinds of problems. The public, in its ignorance, approves of some things and not others without too much concern for consistency.

The Bush policy was itself a political compromise. If it would be wrong to use embryonic stem cells for research, how can it be right to create and discard them in fertility clinics? Bush did not have the executive power to stop medical procedures using fertilized embryos, and it would have been politically impossible to do so. He did what he could.
3.16.2009 6:52pm
Michael B (mail):
zuch,

So it's debated within churches and elsewhere? That doesn't result in a "religion trumps all" calculus, as detailed and argued now at some length, at least so for a forum such as this.

I know it's difficult, but you need to use a real argument and more probing forms of thought in lieu of your partisan sniping and facile, pious simplisticus arrogations and conceptions. Some examples:

E.g., you're exemplifying your own beliefs, both overtly and more tacitly. You're free to do so, but you're not free to imagine they are any more "factual" or "rational" or "scientifically" based, much as you're not free to choose your own facts. (I.e. subject your own assumptions to critical review, equal to the critique you're applying to others.)

E.g., technocratic conceptions reflect an underlying set of moral/ethical assumptions themselves.

E.g., describing something as "rigorous," such as: "Ethics, practiced as a rigorous discipline," does not magically make it more "rigorous" than some other, perhaps competing set of moral/ethical considerations. Adjectives - syntax in general - are nothing more than that. If they do not reflect the substance of what you're describing, they are rhetorical devices and arrogations only.
3.16.2009 7:37pm
seadrive:

E.g., describing something as "rigorous," such as: "Ethics, practiced as a rigorous discipline," does not magically make it more "rigorous" than some other, perhaps competing set of moral/ethical considerations.


Michael B: You have blamed the innocent zuch for my formulation. Fortunately, it was a non-controversial point. I was only drawing a distinction between the opinions of the untutored mob with those of, say, professors of philosophy, and only to say they differ, and that the latter might surprise the former.
3.16.2009 8:05pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michael B:
zuch,

So it's debated within churches and elsewhere? That doesn't result in a "religion trumps all" calculus, as detailed and argued now at some length, at least so for a forum such as this.
I was pointing out the locus of origin of the "embryos are human life, deserving of 'dignity' [and thus protection]" 'argument'. Do you really think that the controversy wouldn't happen w/o the involvement of (certain) churches, and their absolutist positions on "when human life begins"?!?!?
I know it's difficult, but you need to use a real argument and more probing forms of thought in lieu of your partisan sniping and facile, pious simplisticus arrogations and conceptions. Some examples:

E.g., you're exemplifying your own beliefs, both overtly and more tacitly. You're free to do so, but you're not free to imagine they are any more "factual" or "rational" or "scientifically" based, much as you're not free to choose your own facts. (I.e. subject your own assumptions to critical review, equal to the critique you're applying to others.)
I will agree I have my own opinions (and have phrased them that way above. And I will grant you that such opinions are not religiously based. Outside of that, where do you get the rest of this?!?!?
E.g., technocratic conceptions reflect an underlying set of moral/ethical assumptions themselves.
What does this have to do with the price of tea in Sri Lanka?
E.g., describing something as "rigorous," such as: "Ethics, practiced as a rigorous discipline," does not magically make it more "rigorous" than some other, perhaps competing set of moral/ethical considerations. Adjectives - syntax in general - are nothing more than that. If they do not reflect the substance of what you're describing, they are rhetorical devices and arrogations only.
Where did I say such a thing? I'd say that, in truth, those that think their ethics are of a higher standard tend to be those that derive such from religious convictions.

Cheers,
3.16.2009 8:11pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
zuch,

Which doesn't ban embryonic stem cell research

Of course not. Neither did anything Bush did.

[but arguably limits funding for creation of new stem cell lines using federal money].

"Arguably limits," nothing. It forbids use of federal funds for that purpose, and the same provision has been in place for well over a decade.

But Obama can only reverse previous executive orders; for legislation, he needs Congress to pass it first. So imputing his views on this Congressional provision is a but unfair.

Did you miss the bit where Obama signed the legislation containing this provision? I mean, it's not as though he has a massive Congressional majority or anything; I suppose he has to sign whatever lands on his desk.
3.16.2009 9:30pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
zuch,

The 'logic' here, regardless of Dubya's waffling, is that he'd ban any research that involved destroying "embryos" regardless of whether they were even proven to produce therapeutically useful cell lines, and it all comes down to "the sanctity of all human life". Just as he'd ban any use of cells (or organs) derived from an adult human (involuntarily) to save another life or lives, he banned such (and banned such use even indirectly through the prohibition of use of the "fruits" of such because of the alleged 'incentive' provided by such use). This is the religious absolutism sneaking in, and thank goodness, we're leaving that by the wayside.

Dude, you're using a private version of "ban" that means "withhold federal funding from." Outside your head, the word means something else. Really it does.
3.16.2009 9:42pm
Michael B (mail):
"You have blamed the innocent zuch for my formulation. Fortunately, it was a non-controversial point. I was only drawing a distinction between the opinions of the untutored mob with those of, say, professors of philosophy, and only to say they differ, and that the latter might surprise the former." SeaDrive

Whatever it was, it wasn't "non-controversial" and to suggest so reflects further incomprehensions still. For example, you weren't "only" drawing a distinction in some type of abstracted, innocuous or above-the-fray manner. But, whatever ...

Since we're going nowhere in terms of a better grounded, more coherent exchange, I'll more simply example one of those professors, philosopher/bioethicist David Oderberg, addressing the subject of the bioethics industry:

Bioethics Today (pdf), excerpting first from the opening grafs, emphases added:

"There can be no doubt that the public face of contemporary philosophy is the professional who goes by the name of “bioethicist.” Since the bioethics industry — which is what it is — sprang up in the 1970s, large numbers of professional philosophers have found it a congenial and remunerative way in which to make a reputation for themselves.

"A few general observations can be made about bioethicists. Some of them are well-meaning. For example, they are dedicated to the laudable notion that philosophy should be heard in the public square and have an influence on the making of policy. Or they believe, rightly, that the bioethical problems of our day are of such grave moment that philosophers should try to grapple with them, at least, and provide solutions if possible. It is not only that the welfare of society depends on such solutions, but that if philosophers, who are supposed to be trained in rigorous thinking, do not do the hard conceptual work that needs to be done, the void will be filled by the looser and fuzzier moral thinking of others — especially lawyers, politicians, and economists. Some are simply committed to the idea, again admirable, that bioethics is a serious intellectual discipline that demands equally serious analytical application. Some find bioethics just interesting and worthy of philosophical pursuit in its own right. Again, this is true.

"On the other hand, it is all too evident that very many, perhaps the majority, of bioethicists are, to put it frankly, less than competent. ..."

Then, the closing graf:

"Technology is in itself morally neutral. Biotech is no exception. It can be used for good or for evil. If it is to be used for good, it must come under far heavier regulation than it does at present. At the moment, especially in the United Kingdom, biotechnology is out of control. Its boosters and spin doctors march through the media and the journals virtually unscathed. To do something concrete about this requires creative action, imaginative thinking, and direct engagement. Perhaps it is too late to turn back the tide. But it is never too late to try."

Doesn't sound so rigorous, does it???
3.16.2009 9:55pm
Michael B (mail):
So it's debated within churches and elsewhere? That doesn't result in a "religion trumps all" calculus, as detailed and argued now at some length, at least so for a forum such as this.
"I was pointing out the locus of origin of the "embryos are human life, deserving of 'dignity' [and thus protection]" 'argument'. Do you really think that the controversy wouldn't happen w/o the involvement of (certain) churches, and their absolutist positions on "when human life begins"?!?!?" zuch
In fact, you were confusing/conflating Pres. Bush's statement, previously linked, with the opinions, beliefs, convictions, etc. of a certain broad segment among the hoi polloi. Likewise, you might consider checking your own absolutist and narrow (read ideologically provincial) positions/perceptions before you worry over others'.
3.16.2009 10:02pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson:
[zuch]: "Which doesn't ban embryonic stem cell research"

Of course not. Neither did anything Bush did.

[zuch]: "[but arguably limits funding for creation of new stem cell lines using federal money]. "

"Arguably limits," nothing. It forbids use of federal funds for that purpose, and the same provision has been in place for well over a decade.
What Dubya banned was federally funded research using any lines other than the 60, nay 40, nay, 20, nay maybe a dozen lines prepared mainly thought use of viruses. There is a difference between Dubya's and Obama's policies, even if the legislation hasn't been changed (or ignored) by preznitential fiat.

Cheers,
3.17.2009 11:41am
zuch (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson
[zuch]: But Obama can only reverse previous executive orders; for legislation, he needs Congress to pass it first. So imputing his views on this Congressional provision is a but unfair.

Did you miss the bit where Obama signed the legislation containing this provision? I mean, it's not as though he has a massive Congressional majority or anything; I suppose he has to sign whatever lands on his desk.
Did you miss the part where this is an omnibus budget bill (and under some rather pressing circumstances), and there's no line item veto?

Cheers,
3.17.2009 11:45am
zuch (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson:
Dude, you're using a private version of "ban" that means "withhold federal funding from." Outside your head, the word means something else. Really it does.
Just shorthand, my dear. There is a ban of such from federally funded research. The last part is implicit when we're talking about Dubya's stuff. People talk about this ban because it is a ban. FWIW, I think that Dubya would have banned other activities, not just federal funding, if he thought he could.

Cheers,
3.17.2009 11:55am
zuch (mail) (www):
Michael B:
In fact, you were confusing/conflating Pres. Bush's statement, previously linked, with the opinions, beliefs, convictions, etc. of a certain broad segment among the hoi polloi. Likewise, you might consider checking your own absolutist and narrow (read ideologically provincial) positions/perceptions before you worry over others'.
Oh, I'm perfectly willing to grant that Dubya doesn't actually believe anything himself, and was simply watching the polls (and Rove's advice). He does seem to evince a certain amorality in his other ventures as well.

Cheers,
3.17.2009 12:24pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
zuch,

Are you telling me that Obama, with a large majority of his party in both houses of Congress, couldn't get a provision banning federal funding for research entailing the destruction of human embryos removed from the omnibus spending bill if he wanted to? Why ever not? It surely can't be that there's resistance in his own party to so sensible an idea. Can it?

I repeat that the current federal policy makes no sense. If it's not wrong to destroy human embryos to make new stem cell lines, then there's no reason to withhold federal funding for research that does so. The current policy is to deny funding for the creation of the lines, but grant it for subsequent research. I repeat that Bush's position (allowing research on stem cell lines created before his order, but denying it for later ones) makes sense if you think research destroying human embryos is wrong. The current policy makes no sense at all.
3.17.2009 1:24pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson:
zuch,

Are you telling me that Obama, with a large majority of his party in both houses of Congress, couldn't get a provision banning federal funding for research entailing the destruction of human embryos removed from the omnibus spending bill if he wanted to? Why ever not? It surely can't be that there's resistance in his own party to so sensible an idea. Can it?
No, I'm telling you that you shouldn't infer Obama's sentiments from Congressional legislation (particularly something that's hidden deep in the bill, and which has been around in various previous bills unchanged). I'd also point out that while the House Republicans are principally annoying (and loud) but not much else, the Senate required at the very least some slight Republican particiaption due to the Senate filibuster rules and solid Republican opposition to anything Democratic. When dealing with a budget bill, no point in fighting battles that are not needed to be fought at that time.
I repeat that the current federal policy makes no sense. If it's not wrong to destroy human embryos to make new stem cell lines, then there's no reason to withhold federal funding for research that does so....
I agree. I think Obama does as well. I indicated that above. But I've also stated that Obama can't just ignore U.S. law (unlike some folks we know).
... The current policy is to deny funding for the creation of the lines, but grant it for subsequent research. I repeat that Bush's position (allowing research on stem cell lines created before his order, but denying it for later ones) makes sense if you think research destroying human embryos is wrong. The current policy makes no sense at all.
No. You might well think it immoral to kill someone, but feel it perfectly fine for that person's relatives to deed the person's organs to others to save their lives, etc. You might well be perfectly rational to say that any doctors using the "fruits" of a murder (or a car wreck) to save the lives of others is not condoning murder or applauding car wrecks. To impute the murder to those that transplant the resultant organs, or to suggest that such transplantation encourages more murders is to be ... well, obtuse.

Cheers,
3.17.2009 3:26pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
zuch,

No, I'm telling you that you shouldn't infer Obama's sentiments from Congressional legislation (particularly something that's hidden deep in the bill, and which has been around in various previous bills unchanged) [...] When dealing with a budget bill, no point in fighting battles that are not needed to be fought at that time.

Who's trying to infer Obama's "sentiments"? I'm interested in what he's actually done, and I supposed you were, too.

No point in fighting battles that you don't need to, sure. But isn't this a battle that Obama insisted had to be fought? Haven't we been hearing for years that Bush stymied science by throwing restrictions around hESC research? Wasn't last week's announcement supposed to represent the triumph of science over "ideology"?

And yet it turns out that even now, there will be no government funding for research that destroys human embryos. And for that restriction we don't have anything like Bush's statement announcing his policy; we'll have to live with "Well, it was hidden deep in the bill, and anyway you have to pick your battles."

Obama and his supporters picked this battle personally, and if they aren't sufficiently interested in the question to ferret out restrictive language in major legislation, why should we give them credit for pursuing it at all?

I like your attempt to rationalize what you belatedly realize is the Obama administration's official position, by the way. But it doesn't wash. Murderers aren't interested in the disposition of their victims' organs; nor are reckless drivers. But the scientists who create lines of stem cells from human embryos have a direct interest in what can be done with that material. Allow federally-funded research on it, and it will become more valuable. Make it more valuable, and you will see more of it.

One more item:

Just shorthand, my dear.

Yep — but "shorthand" that's confused everyone who reads newspapers. All sorts of people are convinced that Bush "banned stem cell research," when what he actually did was to ban federal funding of research involving embryonic stem cell lines created after a certain date. Such people are honestly astonished if told that there are stem cells that don't come from embryos, or that Bush didn't ban using frozen embryos to create stem cell lines, or that you still can't use federal funds to do that, even now.
3.17.2009 4:39pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson:
I like your attempt to rationalize what you belatedly realize is the Obama administration's official position, by the way.
Huh? Care to show how what you claim he thinks is "the Obama administration's official position"? Cites would be appreciated.

As to the "shorthand", yes, plenty of people are ill-informed, but we're all above that here, so no need to be long-winded. Neither you nor I were confused as to what Dubya did.

Cheers,
3.17.2009 8:32pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson:
I like your attempt to rationalize what you belatedly realize is the Obama administration's official position, by the way.
Huh? Care to show how what you claim he thinks is "the Obama administration's official position"? Cites would be appreciated.

As to the "shorthand", yes, plenty of people are ill-informed, but we're all above that here, so no need to be long-winded. Neither you nor I were confused as to what Dubya did.

Cheers,
3.17.2009 8:32pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
zuch,

"The Obama Administration's official position" that I meant is the one enacted last week, between the executive order and the 2009 omnibus spending bill. Federal funding can be given to research involving embryonic stem cell lines, whenever created, but not to research that directly destroys human embryos, however or whenever created. Is that a fair summary?

Come on, it's the position of the government. Obama announced half of it last week, and signed the other half of it into law, also last week.

As for what "you or I" were confused by, I'll note only that as recently as yesterday you didn't believe that there was any ban on federal funding for research that destroys human embryos, even though one has been in place for the last 13 years.
3.17.2009 8:57pm
zuch (mail) (www):
MIchelle Dulak Thomson:
Come on, it's the position of the government. Obama announced half of it last week, and signed the other half of it into law, also last week.
I've already explained how it's unfair to attribute a specific item (in the middle of an huge, urgent budget bill in the absence of a line-item-veto, no less) to be the "official position" of the executive. If you can't do any better, you'll have to rest on that, and the astute readers can decide if your 'evidence' is persuasive.
I'll note only that as recently as yesterday you didn't believe that there was any ban on federal funding for research that destroys human embryos, even though one has been in place for the last 13 years.
I never said any such thing. I said you "misstate[d] the case" (which is different from being wrong), and indicated that Obama was, contrary to your intimations, mulling more action (and even provided some cites for that) ... and after all, this is a discussion of Obama's views and plans versus Dubya's ... not a discussion of those of Congress assembled and refractory.

FWIW, here's Obama's statement on the signing:
That is a conclusion with which I agree. That is why I am signing this Executive Order, and why I hope Congress will act on a bi-partisan basis to provide further support for this research. We are joined today by many leaders who have reached across the aisle to champion this cause, and I commend them for that work.
While this might mean just additional funding, you might read into that legislative changes of other types.

Cheers,
3.18.2009 2:06pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
zuch,

What I wrote was

But what has Obama actually done? The ban on federal funding of research that destroys embryos, as I understand it, remains in place. All that's changed is that now research using hESC lines created after Bush's ban was put in place can be federally funded. Research that itself involves the destruction of human embryos still cannot be.

To which you said that I had "misstated the case," and quoted a bit from US News that itself, um, misstated the case. I don't blame you for being confused, because US News had the current law wrong, and it wouldn't surprise me if it had Obama's intentions (i.e., to put the deliberate creation of human embryos as experimental material "on the table") right.

But this is just what I was saying about the media confusion over stem cell research. It takes work to find accurate information, because the casual terminology appropriate to headlines (your "shorthand") glosses over very important distinctions. Later in the same comment you said

Seeing as I think you're working on mistaken facts, perhaps you'll reconsider your question.

— my "mistaken facts" being my statement that current law still prohibits federal funding of research that destroys human embryos. Look, it does, OK? Perhaps you will reconsider your answer.
3.18.2009 2:31pm
zuch (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson:
[Arne]: Seeing as I think you're working on mistaken facts, perhaps you'll reconsider your question.

— my "mistaken facts" being my statement that current law still prohibits federal funding of research that destroys human embryos. Look, it does, OK? Perhaps you will reconsider your answer.

No. Your statement as to Obama's policies. You asked "but what has Obama actually done?" and then complained that what he's done is (in your mind) inconsistent or irrational. But the fact is that you attribute Congress's actions (and more specifically, those of the RW in Congress that managed to shoehorn that legislative amendment in as a non-negotiable demand in their dealings with the rest of Congress) to Obama in criticising him. Obama didn't institute this law. He acceded to it, but not on the merits. If he had pushed for the inclusion of this provision, you might be justified in arguing that his policy makes no sense. But not with the extrinsic evidence that he was not insisting on this, and in fact, seems to be open to further changes consistent with his actual policies and programs.

And with that, I'm done. You can go comment here if you feel so inclined; I don't think I need to say more.

Cheers,
3.18.2009 3:06pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Eh. Since you immediately went on to try to make sense of the current state of the law on ethical grounds, I'm still not convinced that you knew what it was before I mentioned it. Whatever.

How is the "RW" of Congress supposed to have foisted this on the large majority that is not RW? I don't think you get to make "nonnegotiable demands" if you're a fraction of a minority party — for surely you don't think all Republicans oppose harvesting frozen embryos for stem cells.

Thanks for the leanleft link. I think the article overstates the case massively, but there's much good information in there.
3.18.2009 3:46pm

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