Friday, July 29, 2005

Frist Announces Support for Stem-Cell Fudning

Breaking with both the President and his party’s socially conservative base, Senate Majority Leader Frist has announced he will support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. This is, to say the least, a surprising development.

As we have written, we support the legislation authorizing federal funding of new stem cell lines and believe the President and his supporters have taken a position that makes little sense when analyzed. It’s heartening to see Frist, a social conservative by all accounts, coming to the realization that it is morally acceptable and scientifically and economically justifiable to do research of embryonic stem cells derived from embryos that would have otherwise been discarded by fertility clinics.

Of course, it’s hard to see Frist’s move on this and not consider the political ramifications. Often touted as a potential candidate for the 2008 presidential election, Frist’s stem-cell position moves him away from the socially conservative base and towards the center. This is an intriguing move indeed, since Frist has often been assumed to be not only a rigid social conservative but also the man Bush would most like see replace him.

The fallout over this will be interesting to watch.

A RELATED SIDE NOTE: The only argument I’ve heard against federal funding that makes any sense is the small-government, fiscally conservative argument that says private industry and the states are doing just fine funding this research and the federal government doesn’t need to be spending our tax dollars on it. That is at least a consistent argument (unlike the President’s). And it has some appeal to me because I do believe the federal government has its hands in far too many activities.

But, in my mind, medical science is just about the last area where we need to remove funds when cutting the budget. Certainly we can cut from a lot more areas before we cut medical science. Perhaps the free market can adequately fund stem cell research, but how do we know for sure? And how does it hurt the research by putting more money into it?

I understand the impulse not to use our tax dollars to fund something that the free market can handle by itself. But a science as promising (and it is promising, despite what some would have us believe) as embryonic stem-cell research deserves every chance to succeed. Federal funding can help significantly. If people disagree, they can vote out of office the many representatives and senators who vote for it.


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