Monday, May 23, 2005

Bush Should Reconsider Funding Stem-Cell Research

Working its way through Congress is a new, bipartisan stem-cell bill which would provide federal funding to the National Institute of Health (NIH) to conduct research on new embryonic stem-cell lines. Unfortunately, President Bush has vowed to veto the bill.

The bill is very specific in its guidelines and would only permit research on embryos that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics. All embryos would have to be donated with the consent of the donor couple. Nevertheless, there truly are serious ethical questions involved. Despite what some on the left may want you to think, social conservatives aren’t anti-science or needlessly cruel in their position. An embryo is the first stage of life. And any experimentation on life should be undertaken carefully to ensure no ethical standards are violated.

This is why the new bill deserves support. By limiting research only to embryos that would otherwise be discarded, we are not creating life for the soul purpose of an experiment. In fact, fertility clinics create embryos for the soul purpose of advancing life and providing couples with the blessing of a child. Few would be willing to argue that fertility clinics are unethical. Thus, providing the unused embryos to the NIH should be acceptable. Morally, I think it is better to use those embryos to help develop cures that might improve the quality of life rather than just discarding them.

President Bush, while supportive of the research, feels this is not an area the federal government should be involved in funding. To me, that seems like one of those so-called compromise solutions that is no compromise at all. If President Bush believes it is ethical to work with new embryonic stem cell lines, then it should be ethical to fund such research. If Bush believes the research is unethical, then he should be moving to outlaw the practice all together.

Instead, President Bush’s policy creates an untenable middle ground. The difficult ethics of the science are the very reason why the federal government should get involved. By providing funding, the government can also provide significant guidance in the development of strong ethical standards and research guidelines. By refusing funding, Bush is only guaranteeing that a broad range of ethical standards will develop, some almost assuredly less well-considered than the new bill in Congress.

Permitting research but denying funding is not a compromise solution. The real compromise is to provide funding but require research to be carried out on the government’s (i.e. the people’s) terms. The new bill is strong legislation. The President should support it.


At 1:22 PM, Blogger Maggie said...

Alan, you point out some of the ethical or moral implications of this legislation, but neglect the economic ones. I would never argue that economic reasoning should superceed ethical considerations, but we should be looking at the whole picture here.

The day after President Bush limited federal funding of stem cell research to those cell lines currently in exsistence two of the US' top stem cell researchers announced their move to Europe so they could continue their research. There is a real threat of losing our position as a nation of research that advances medical and other scientific knowledge for the betterment of society, if such restrictive practices continue. Such an occurance would have signficant negative economic implications for our future. We have prided ourselves in the last 10 - 20 years as creating a knowledge economy and while limiting stem cell research won't kill that off by itself, it take a nice chunk away (think of all the ancilary business that support and feed off of such research).

Additionally, you don't mention anything about valid concerns over the purity of existing stem cell lines and their fitness for future research.

I personally believe there is a strong future in stem cell research, with potentially amazing curative and therapeutic benefits for devastating diseases, but America won't be a part of that unless we come to some realistic and tenable compromise.

We are a nation who has lead the way in scientic discovery, helping to shape ethical boundaries for the entire world along the way. We need to stand up and resolve this issue in a way that supports life and science, because after all, the goal of stem cell research is to enhance and extend life -- let us not lose sight of that.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Maggie, you are very right. I should have titled the post "Bush Should Reconsider Ethical Implications of Stem-Cell Research," as my point was to argue that the current bill is, in my opinion, an ethical way to handle the issue. I did not mean to imply ethics were the only consideration here--only that they are the first consideration. Assuming we can agree that government funding of the research is ehtical, then there are, as you pointed out, good and solid reasons to support this with strong funding (rather than, say, a modest grant).


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