Yesterday’s veto of Stem Cell research — Bush’s second attempt at stopping human longevity — creates an uncomfortable schism between “Doing the Right Thing” and a narrow religious view pressed into the heart of human suffering favoring the possibility of life over established self-sustained living.
Bush once again presents to the world his indefensible selfish view of pretending to save lives while perpetuating incomprehensible, international, deaths on the battlefield.


From the New York Times [emphasis added]:

WASHINGTON, June 20 — President Bush on Wednesday issued
his second veto of a measure lifting his restrictions on human
embryonic stem cell experiments. The move effectively pushed the
contentious scientific and ethical debate surrounding the research into
the 2008 presidential campaign.

“Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not
ethical,” Mr. Bush said in a brief ceremony in the East Room of the
White House. He called the United States “a nation founded on the principle that all human life is sacred.”
“I
think the president has issued a political fig leaf,” said Sean Tipton,
spokesman for the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, an
advocacy group. “He knows he’s on the wrong side of the American
public.”
The veto, only the third of Mr. Bush’s presidency, puts him at odds not
only with the majority of voters, according to polls, but also with
many members of his own political party. Republicans sent him a similar measure last year when they controlled Congress.

Americans want embryonic stem cell research — in spite of Bush’s
patriarchal ideal that he, and only he, understands science and the
preservation of life — but to deny the will of the people is to
confront the death of responsible national governance.
From MSNBC:

June 20, 2007 – As the debate over the use of human embryos
in research continued with today’s presidential veto of yet another
stem-cell bill, a new survey of more than 1,000 infertility patients
found that 60 percent were willing to donate their frozen embryos to
stem-cell research. The study, conducted at Johns Hopkins University
and published in the journal Science, found that the couples were
nearly three times more likely to donate their embryos for stem-cell
research than for adoption. These donations could make an additional
80,000 to 100,000 embryos available to researchers, says co-author of
the study Ruth Faden.

How does Bush reconcile the willingness of the creators of the embryos
to donate their unwanted embryos to science instead of the endless
adoption queue?

Here is the definition of “Embryonic Stem Cells” from the National Institutes of Health:

Embryonic stem cells, as their name suggests, are derived
from embryos. Specifically, embryonic stem cells are derived from
embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro–in an
in vitro fertilization clinic–and then donated for research purposes
with informed consent of the donors.

They are not derived from eggs
fertilized in a woman’s body. The embryos from which human embryonic
stem cells are derived are typically four or five days old and are a
hollow microscopic ball of cells called the blastocyst. The blastocyst
includes three structures: the trophoblast, which is the layer of cells
that surrounds the blastocyst; the blastocoel, which is the hollow
cavity inside the blastocyst; and the inner cell mass, which is a group
of approximately 30 cells at one end of the blastocoel.

Embryonic Stems Cells provide the hardiest longevity of all stem cell research:

Scientists are trying to understand two fundamental properties of stem cells that relate to their long-term self-renewal:

  1. Why can embryonic stem cells proliferate for a year or more
    in the laboratory without differentiating, but most adult stem cells
    cannot; and
  2. What are the factors in living organisms that normally regulate stem cell proliferation and self-renewal?

Embryonic Stem Cells are not babies. They are not children. They do not breathe. They have no soul.
Embryonic
Stem Cells hold the promise for saving and healing hundreds of lives
from a single research cell.

When people like Bush wrap themselves in the idea of saving the
potential possibility of one — and then allowing that single maybe to
trump the established triumphs of research — we all decay as one in
the determined midst of small minds bending scientific knowledge to
adhere to blind religious belief.

18 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    I’m in favor of adult stem cell research — in fact, your illustration shows adult stem cells that are available without the need to terminate the life of the organism from which they are obtained.
    However, I completely understand the objections to federal funding of embryonic stem cell because it certainly would encourage the creation of a market to obtain embryonic stem cells and an industry designed to engage in the harvesting of embryos for research.
    While arguments can be had over whether embryos should be considered living, etc., there is a fear that anything that disrespects humanity in whatever form it may be could lead to a slippery slope for other human beings in other situations and life stages.
    To someone who believes that embryos should be viewed as being human beings, there is no difference between allowing embryos to be destroyed for medical purposes and from harvesting organs from non-consenting adults.
    Of course, China harvests organs from prisoners to sell in an underground organ market.
    It all boils down to whether it is better that a lesser dies to help someone in a more superior societal position?

  2. I found an interesting CNN article that suggests that adult stem cell therapies might be available fairly soon, because researchers are conducting human experiments.

    “From a Wall Street perspective, adult stem cells are a much better investment,” said Stephen Dunn of Dawson James Securities. “These are the guys who are going to be in the news in 2007 and 2008.” …
    But work with adult stem cells isn’t being held back by funding restraints and political opposition, analysts say.
    “Embryonic stem cell research hasn’t kept up pace with adult stem cell research,” said Dunn. “Adult stem cell research is advancing so far you might not need embryonic stem cells. If the federal government is reluctant to put their money into it, then Wall Street is as well.”
    So while embryonic stem cell researchers are experimenting with rats, adult stem cell researchers have moved on to more advanced tests with humans. The embryonic-based stem cell treatments are probably a decade away, but the U.S. market could see its first adult-based stem cell treatments within the next couple of years.

    http://money.cnn.com/2006/08/09/news/companies/stemcells/index.htm?section=money_latest
    The government hasn’t blocked private embryonic stem cell research inside the United States or around the world, so maybe the whole issue will be made moot when the adult stem cell products reach the public in the coming years.

  3. The problem with adult stems cells is they are not as robust or “malleable” as embryonic stem cells and to withhold the option to use the best promise we hold today as the University of Wisconsin argues in support of their program in embryonic stem cells research:

    Why are embryonic stem cells important?
    Embryonic stem cells are of great interest to medicine and science because of their ability to develop into virtually any other cell made by the human body. In theory, if stem cells can be grown and their development directed in culture, it would be possible to grow cells of medical importance such as bone marrow, neural tissue or muscle.
    The first potential applications of human embryonic stem cell technology may be in the area of drug discovery. The ability to grow pure populations of specific cell types offers a proving ground for chemical compounds that may have medical importance. Treating specific cell types with chemicals and measuring their response offers a short-cut to sort out chemicals that can be used to treat the diseases that involve those specific cell types. Stem cell technology, therefore, would permit the rapid screening of hundreds of thousands of chemicals that must now be tested through much more time-consuming processes.
    The study of human development also benefits from embryonic stem cell research. The earliest stages of human development have been difficult or impossible to study. Human embryonic stem cells offer insights into developmental events that cannot be studied directly in humans in utero or fully understood through the use of animal models. Understanding the events that occur at the first stages of development has potential clinical significance for preventing or treating birth defects, infertility and pregnancy loss. A thorough knowledge of normal development could ultimately allow the prevention or treatment of abnormal human development. For instance, screening drugs by testing them on cultured human embryonic stem cells could help reduce the risk of drug-related birth defects.
    How might embryonic stem cells be used to treat disease?
    The ability to grow human tissue of all kinds opens the door to treating a range of cell-based diseases and to growing medically important tissues that can be used for transplantation purposes. For example, diseases like juvenile onset diabetes mellitus and Parkinson’s disease occur because of defects in one of just a few cells types. Replacing faulty cells with healthy ones offers hope of lifelong treatment. Similarly, failing hearts and other organs, in theory, could be shored up by injecting healthy cells to replace damaged or diseased cells.
    Why not derive stem cells from adults?
    There are several approaches now in human clinical trials that utilize mature stem cells (such as blood-forming cells, neuron-forming cells and cartilage-forming cells). However, because adult cells are already specialized, their potential to regenerate damaged tissue is very limited: skin cells will only become skin and cartilage cells will only become cartilage. Adults do not have stem cells in many vital organs, so when those tissues are damaged, scar tissue develops. Only embryonic stem cells, which have the capacity to become any kind of human tissue, have the potential to repair vital organs.
    Another limitation of adult stem cells is their inability to proliferate in culture. Unlike embryonic stem cells, which have a capacity to reproduce indefinitely in the laboratory, adult stem cells are difficult to grow in the lab and their potential to reproduce diminishes with age. Therefore, obtaining clinically significant amounts of adult stem cells may prove to be difficult.

    http://www.news.wisc.edu/packages/stemcells/facts.html#3

  4. Here is the seminal research paper on the need for embryonic stem cells:
    http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/350/13/1353
    The International Society for Stem Cell Research:

    Moral Treatment of Embryos
    In the case of embryonic stem cell research, the end that scientists hope to achieve is the relief of human suffering. That this is a humanitarian and worthy end is not in dispute. The controversy is about the means, namely, the consumption of donated embryos. More particularly, embryonic stem cell research and therapy would use donated embryos that, by virtue of donor instructions, will never enter a uterus. Is it permissible to use those means to that end? Ancient religious texts provide little guidance. The ancients did not understand embryology, did not imagine that scientists might create and nurture what we now understand as embryos in the laboratory. Nor can we get an answer from laboratory experiments. There is no test for whether an embryo is a person. Instead we are left to our own devices, to our own moral reasoning.

    http://www.isscr.org/public/ethics.htm
    I realize the Pope is trying to make the case that embryos are human beings — but it seems he should concentrate more on punishing pedophile priests than creating 10 Commandments for safe driving and trying to make embryonic stem cell research a religious matter in the realm of science.

    Margaret Farley, Ph.D., of Yale University explains that in history and in present theological discussion, there is more than one Catholic line of reasoning, including a strong Catholic moral defense of humanitarian embryo use. For one who concludes that we are not obliged to refrain from using embryos that will never enter a womb, embryonic stem cell research is a case of fostering a worthy end by using only nonpersons as means.

    http://www.georgetown.edu/research/nrcbl/nbac/stemcell3.pdf

  5. David,
    Very fine and aggressive article you have here.
    Bush’s veto just reaks of hypocrisy, as you have very clearly stated in your post. I actually laughed out loud when I read the statement he made from the White House yesterday, particularly the part you have in bold-face. Simply astounding.

  6. Emily —
    There is so much hypocrisy in the current administration’s claims to fight for and preserve human life. Poor children can starve in Darfur, the blind can stay that way and the heart diseased will not be helped because of a fuzzy, religious, imperative that — if extrapolated into a cogent policy — would include a federal adoption program, a federally funded birth control plan and a federally funded program to bring every embryonic cell to life… even those promised to cancer, disability and vegetative states as well as all embryos lost during normal menstruation:

    What are we to think about the fact that Nature (and for believers, Nature’s God) profligately creates and destroys human embryos? John Opitz, a professor of pediatrics, human genetics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, testified before the President’s Council on Bioethics that between 60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in women’s normal menstrual flows unnoticed. This is not miscarriage we’re talking about. The women and their husbands or partners never even know that conception has taken place; the embryos disappear from their wombs in their menstrual flows. In fact, according to Opitz, embryologists estimate that the rate of natural loss for embryos that have developed for seven days or more is 60 percent. The total rate of natural loss of human embryos increases to at least 80 percent if one counts from the moment of conception. About half of the embryos lost are abnormal, but half are not, and had they implanted they would probably have developed into healthy babies.

    http://www.reason.com/news/show/34948.html

  7. Hi David,
    I’m not educated enough on the subject of stem cells to put forth a reasonable argument, one way or the other.
    While I have great respect for Pope Benedict XVI, he seems to exist in an ideal world, one where there is no overpopulation or disease, and so many of his traditional Catholic viewpoints are lost on me because they don’t make a lot of sense to me from a practical standpoint, only from a theological one.
    Donna

  8. That’s an interesting take on a complex issue, Donna. I realize religion requires adherence to blind faith and a compulsion to follow a strict catechism or risk ostracism from the community.
    If those tables were flipped, however, and the Surgeon General turned to the churches and told them how to behave and what to believe and when life begins and what the ethereal meaning of “living person” meant — there would be a fundamentalist outrage consisting of “who are they to tell us anything?”
    Many of us ask that same question of those religious leaders who seek to impress their morality and their worldview in the mainstream non-denominational view of trying to make the lives of the living better.

  9. Hi David,
    A very good point well taken.
    I am not one of those in the category of “adherence to blind faith,” nor do I have a “compulsion to follow a strict catechism.” This does not mean, however, I cannot respect those who offer an intelligent, yet opposing and idealistic view.
    I consider many viewpoints and follow my conscience when deciding these matters.
    Donna

  10. Hi Donna —
    I don’t think idealism serves any great purpose other than meeting selfish needs. It is the opposite of realism and it doesn’t save lives or get things done it just sits there in the clouds twiddling its thumbs.
    It’s interesting Oxford’s first definition of idealism is “the pursuit of an unrealistic idea.”

  11. Hi David,
    I agree, idealism does not serve any great purpose. One might argue that it is a “goal,” something to strive for, but generally it results in utopian thinking which can lead to corruption at worst and a distorted view of reality at best that clouds one’s conception of reality. Your description of it “there in the clouds twiddling its thumbs” is very good, I picture Thoreau on Walden’s Pond.
    Donna

  12. Hi Donna —
    I think we need to strike idealism from people, not encourage them to strive for it. The most idealistic of us all are the young — who are pure of experience and real world realities — and the generationally rich who have no worries whatsoever when it comes to surviving in the world.
    Idealism doesn’t translate well to getting things done in the real world.

  13. Hi David,
    Bush didn’t block embryonic stem cell research.
    He just didn’t authorized federal funds. If private investors aren’t convinced that they should be putting their money into embryonic stem cell ventures in the U.S., China, Europe or on some remote deserted island, then the embryonic stem cell proponents need to make their case since private money is flowing into the adult stem cell arena.
    Just because the government doesn’t give out grant money doesn’t mean that people aren’t able to conduct their own research as they are doing right now all over the country.
    If the embryonic stem cells were so promising, the marketplace would be supporting these efforts. In these days of multinational corporations, it would be easy enough to set up show in any of the other places around the world where people are conducting stem cell research.
    Investors withholding money seems to indicate that the proponents of embryonic stem cell therapies haven’t made their case since most businesses aren’t getting their marching orders from churches, but instead are focused on maximizing profit for their shareholders.

  14. Hi David,
    Some people believe that health rationing should be our policy as babyboomers get old and less productive.

    The NHS cannot, and never has been able to, offer every treatment to everyone who needs it.
    The NHS is funded from taxes, and it spends more than £42bn every year – £779 for every person in the UK. But it is not a bottomless pit of funds and some treatments have to be restricted.
    Raising taxes to pay for every possible need is politically unthinkable, as it would require a massive increase in income tax to raise enough revenue to make a significant difference to spending.
    This means some treatments have to be restricted, or rationed.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/251988.stm
    Just because health rationing occurs overseas doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the U.S.

    Two countries, two very different health care systems. As both the United States and the United Kingdom increasingly struggle with gaps between affordability and access to health care, rationing of resources is inevitable, agreed two presenters in a recent symposium, Ethical Dilemmas at the Beginning and End of Life: The Clinician’s Challenge.

    http://www.amda.com/publications/caring/february2002/rationing.cfm
    If the President said he would veto a bill that would restrict treatments for the elderly as a way to save money for future generations and to provide health care funding for those who have longer and more productive lives against them would that be the action of a “vainglorious religious fundamentalist president” because it was based on a religious/moral position?
    After all, shouldn’t the decision where health care funding be left to the scientists and medical professionals who can tell us that it would be better to spend money on the young, instead of wasting it on the unproductive and costly elderly?

  15. Chris —
    With proper embryonic stem cell research many more people will be healed and made healthy into their older age. A healthier nation saves money and perpetuates the idea that all breathing people should have the best possible quality of life that the federal government can ensure with the best available information and technology to help lead the way.

  16. I almost forgot that states are funding their own embryonic stem cell grants. Illinois and New Jersey come to mind.
    However, some proponents of embryonic stem cell research say government funding of research ends up being wasteful or costly.

    Almost all stem cell research funding initiatives currently being considered on the state level involve bond issues that, when all is said and done, will cost tax payers at least twice their actual investment in embryonic stem cell research related expenditures.
    Government funding isn’t advantageous when funds that could be spent on research are spent on lobbying, political upheaval over the issue of funding leads to restrictions on all research, money is thrown at extremely high-risk but low-yield projects, and efforts are wasted on obtaining close to worthless knowledge.

    http://www.genengnews.com/articles/chitem.aspx?aid=2061&chid=0