As the Senate revs up to debate embryonic stem-cell research
, four primary questions hang over the debate. Is embryonic stem-cell research ethical?
Those who oppose
stem-cell research argue that an embryo is a human life and, since the science requires that the viability of the embryo be destroyed, the process is destroying a human life. I understand that argument and am even sympathetic to it. And if the science required embryos to be created for the sole purpose of research, then I’d probably oppose it.
But that’s not the case. The embryos being used would otherwise be discarded from fertility clinics. So, in my mind, to oppose embryonic stem-cell research on ethical grounds, you must also oppose fertility clinics where embryos are destroyed regularly. And I cannot oppose clinics whose purpose is to give parents the blessing of a child. If we don’t oppose the clinics, then how do we oppose using their extra embryos to advance a science that could save lives?Is embryonic stem-cell research really all that promising?
Maybe. The breakthrough needed to make embryonic stem-cell research possible happened in late 1998. It’s a little too soon to declare the science a success or a failure. Adult stem cells and umbilical cord stem cells have proven quite successful
at treating a variety of diseases, including helping a paralyzed woman walk again
But just because other stem-cells have thus-far been more effective, doesn’t mean that embryonic stem-cell research is unneeded. In fact, the success of other stem-cell research proves the viability of the science. Embryonic stem-cells have the potential of generating cells for any part of the body, including areas where extracting adult stem cells is almost impossible. From a purely scientific standpoint, it would be foolish to abandon embryonic stem-cell research at such an early phase.Should the government fund science that is morally objectionable to some?
Yes, assuming that it is not morally objectionable to the majority. Removing government funding because one minority segment believes it to be objectionable is a horrible way to set public policy. Many American’s find the war in Iraq morally objectionable. Many find teaching sex ed objectionable. And birth control. And the death penalty. The list goes on and on. So, yes, we can provide funding for practices with which some Americans disagree We do it all the time and this instance is no different from any other.Should government fund medical research at all?
Yes. I am a big proponent of free-market economics, but I am a rationalist not an ideologue and believe that a few specific industries require a government/private sector partnership in order to be most effective. Medical science is one of these. While private industry has a very important role to play, our medical advances should not be driven solely by the profit decisions of private companies. Nor should all discoveries be subject to corporate secrecy and private patent. Government funding helps ensure the most important advances are shared with the medical community at large.
Congress and the President apparently agree. The 2005 National Institute for Health (NIH) budget
contains $28.8 billion in funds that will be distributed to 2,800 organizations for all manner of research. $137 million alone will be spent researching emerging technologies that may or may not be beneficial some day.
The $28.8 billion is a vital contribution to America’s medical research. It is inconceivable that even a fraction of that funding would be available through private donations were the government to stop providing funds. Private industry simply does not have the proper motivations or wealth of funding necessary to be solely responsible for advancing medical science.