Two Views on Recent Stem Cell Technique

Charles Krauthammer: Bush vindicated, the debate is over.
Michael Kinsley in Time: Not so much.

[Relevant sidenote: Krauthammer is a paraplegic. Kinsley suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Krauthammer was on President Bush II’s Council on Bioethics.]

A few points about the new technique.

1)It required embryonic stem cells to be done. So this whole line about how “the debate is over” is not intellectually honest.
2)The scientists themselves believe that embryonic stem cell research should continue. Doesn’t mean it should just ‘cuz they say so, that’s their opinion (informed but not absolute), but it does mean this easy line about “Bush was right, let’s all cheer” is again less than totally accurate. The reasoning of the scientists?
3)This new technique (which would be a profound breakthrough) might not work. In which case, a horror story would be to find out 5 years down the road, after having launched only on this line of research, to find that it’s a dead end. I pray to God that doesn’t happen. I would love for this technique (non-embryonic) to be the one “that works.” But a one-track only approach could seriously backfire.

I actually agree with Krauthammer that the best position for the president to have taken would have been to use the already created, frozen, and to be “discarded” (ugly word) embryos from in-vitro clinics. And not, repeat not, use embryonic tissue from aborted material.  I agreed with the President that the government should not be funding more lines specifically created for this purpose. Though its arguable, I suppose, that the reverse should have been the case. The President should have been for government regulation because embryos were created and destroyed for this purpose, but outside regulatory functioning–i.e. in the private sector.

Kinsley, with whom I don’t often agree but find his viewpoint always enlightening, adds this point on why the debate is not in fact over:

Third, although the political dilemma that stem cells pose for politicians is real enough, the moral dilemma is not and never was. The embryos used in stem-cell research come from fertility clinics, which otherwise would discard them. This has been a powerful argument in favor of such research. Why let these embryos go to waste? But a more important point is, What about fertility clinics themselves? In vitro fertilization (“test-tube babies”) involves the purposeful creation of multiple embryos, knowing and intending that most of them either will die after implantation in the womb or, if not implanted, will be discarded or frozen indefinitely. Even if all embryonic-stem-cell research stopped tomorrow, this far larger mass slaughter of embryos would continue. There is no political effort to stop it. Bush even praised in vitro fertilization in his 2001 speech about the horrors of stem-cell research. In vitro has become too popular for politicians to take on. But their failure to do so makes a mockery of their alleged agony over embryonic stem cells.

That’s a provocative last line. One reply would be that they were simply practical men and women who realized they could only win certain fights and drew their sand line where they thought they had some chance of succeeding. Rather than the hypocrisy/mockery line of Kinsley. I certainly agree that the debate, as in US political discourse, will never discuss the white elephants sitting in the room. Does it make sense to have allowed so many embryos to be destroyed in one arena and then prevent some others (that were destroyed anyway) from being used for possible life-giving/life-saving ways?

Mockery I think is too strong for me. I prefer ignorant and morally shallow.

Published in: on November 30, 2007 at 9:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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