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September 27, 2004
Ban? What Ban?

This piece ran originally in the New York Sun last Friday for their weekend edition; I wrote it specifically for the Sun, but wanted to wait until their next edition to post it here.

In the wake of Ron Reagans appearance at the Democratic Convention, John Kerry has tried to make stem-cell research a featured policy difference between Kerry and George Bush. His campaign website talks about ideologically-driven restrictions from the Bush administration and promises to lift the ban on stem cell research. In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial outlining his economic plan, Kerry writes that he will restore Americas competitive edge by working to end the ban on stem-cell research. In fact, it may be the most consistent policy stance of the entire Kerry campaign.

The only problem for Kerry is that the ban doesnt exist and he knows it.

Stem cells are undifferentiated tissue cells that contain the coding and the ability to produce differentiated tissue, such as kidneys, lungs, even nerve tissue. Scientists at the National Institute of Health put stem cells into four different categories: adult, umbilical, fetal, and embryonic. Adult or hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) are considered multipotent, meaning that they can generate a limited number of tissue differentiations, while pluripotent human embryonic stem cells (hEsc) appear able to generate anything short of a complete fetus.

Because of their pluripotent quality, hEsc generate the most interest among researchers. However, they can only be harvested by killing a fetus or embryo, either by abortion in the former case or by in-vitro fertilization and destruction of the resultant embryo. Both types raise serious ethical questions about the nature of life and the deliberate creation of human organisms specifically for their destruction and the harvesting of their tissue.

Stem-cell research first began 40 years ago when scientists developed bone-marrow therapies to treat diseases like leukemia. Research into embryonic stem cells only began in 1998 at the University of Wisconsin. After three years of debate over the ethics of this research and its implications even while hEsc lines continued to be created, the Bush administration made a decision to provide federal funding for hEsc research in August 2001, the first time any such funding had been available from the US government.

As a condition of the funding, Bush restricted federal monies to only the seventy hEsc lines that already existed. At the time, the Bush position attracted both criticism and praise from all sides of the abortion and stem-cell issues. On one hand, Bush kept new embryonic lines from eligibility for federal money, but somewhat against expectations, Bush took the pragmatic view that little gain would come from completely freezing out research on existing lines, where the question of ending a life had become moot. What Bush was not prepared to do then or now was to fund additional lines that would have to be created by the destruction of embryos or through abortions, both of which Bush has always staunchly opposed.

Speaking at a town-hall appearance during his re-election campaign in Derry, NH, Bush made his position and his principles clear when a woman with seriously ill relatives politely challenged him:

It's a very sensitive issue because in order to create a stem cell line you have to destroy life. In other words, there's a -- you take an embryo, and you destroy the embryo, out of which comes a stem cell line. And before I made my decision, there [were] some 70 lines in existence. And I felt that those lines would be ample enough to be able to allow science to go forward to determine whether or not stem cell research would yield the results we all hope that it yields. And so I agreed to allow federal funding to go forward on existing stem cell lines so that further life would not be destroyed.

Out of those 70 lines, some 22 are functional now. And out of [those] 22 lines, there [are] over 300 different projects that are going forward. In other words, there is an active effort to determine whether or not embryonic stem cells will yield the results we hope they yield.

Bush did not issue any sort of ban on hEsc research. Private money can continue to fund hEsc research, as well as money from states and all other levels of government, and federal funding continues on approved hEsc lines. In fact, scientists can work simultaneously on approved and non-approved hEsc lines as long as the researchers use a cost-account approach to manage their funding to ensure that federal money is not applied to non-approved embryonic stem-cell lines.

The Bush administration enthusiastically supports HSC research and campaigns for increased funding. In contrast to hEsc research which has not yet yielded any therapies, according to the NIH HSC lines have created therapies and cures for leukemia, lymphoma, and several inherited blood disorders. Newer HSC research also shows promise in developing treatments and cures for diseases such as diabetes and kidney cancer.

Kerry and his campaign are well aware that there is no ban on stem-cell research, or even on federal funding for stem-cell research. Even their web site and Kerrys WSJ article on economics use doubletalk in order to perpetuate the mythical ban.

The Kerry website uses both the assertion of the ban on stem-cell research and a more qualified ideologically-driven restrictions on stem-cell research, neither of which are true. No restrictions on the actual research have ever been implemented only for federal funding of such. In his WSJ article, Kerry almost gets it right by arguing against Bushs restrictions on funding stem-cell research before wallowing in hysterics by decrying the ban on stem-cell research in the very next paragraph. In neither place does Kerry identify the stem cells as embryonic, explain the other options that receive full federal support, or attempt to explore the ethical issues that arise from their use.

John Kerry used the stem-cell issue to cast George Bush as a scientific illiterate and his administration as a throwback to the Inquisition, forcing modern-day Galileos to renounce their science or face excommunication. However, the truth shows that Bush followed his core principles to reach a strikingly sophisticated and reasonable compromise that allowed all types of research to continue, even funding the existing embryonic lines for continued research. Those whose principles differ from Bush could make a reasonable rebuttal for unfettered funding of hEsc research, but Kerry doesnt have the courage to make that argument. Kerrys insistence on perpetrating myths instead of honest debate reveals the danger he represents, to real scientific exploration as well as to the American body politic.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 27, 2004 3:56 PM

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» Embryonic stem cell research "ban"...sort of. from The MUSC Tiger
Probably one of the better descriptions of the current state of embryonic stem cell research in this country is made at Captain's Quarters. It's clearly a conserative view written with a few digs at Kerry...but it makes some good points. I'm s... [Read More]

Tracked on September 27, 2004 4:48 PM

» Submitted for Your Approval from Watcher of Weasels
First off...  any spambots reading this should immediately go here, here, here, and here.  Die spambots, die!  And now...  here are all the links submitted by members of the Watcher's Council for this week's vote. Council links:Ever... [Read More]

Tracked on September 28, 2004 11:51 PM

» The Stem Cell Issue from Winds of Change.NET
Captain's Quarters has a description of the current status of stem cell research in the USA. It's generally good, but I do have one quibble with it. [Read More]

Tracked on September 29, 2004 2:15 AM

» The Council Has Spoken! from Watcher of Weasels
First off...  any spambots reading this should immediately go here, here, here, and here.  Die spambots, die!  And now...  the winning entries in the Watcher's Council vote for this week are Sometimes Ya Gotta Speak Up by e-Claire, ... [Read More]

Tracked on October 1, 2004 1:06 AM



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