Liberty Immortal

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This Tuesday, President Bush pledged to veto the Castle Bill, which would expand public financing of stem cell research, recently passed in the House and now vocally endorsed by Republican Senate Leader Bill Frist. While the nation waits for the federal government to determine the ethics of medical research for the American people, check out William Saletan's five-part series The Organ Factory.

Saletan metes out the facts and physics of stem cell research while advocating for the extension of an arbitrary 14-day time limit on embryonic stem cell research projects, thus allowing further research on growing replacement organ tissue. According to the studies he discusses, growing most in demand organ tissues from cultivated clones would require only six to seven weeks, two weeks before the prerequisite nervous system needed for brain functioning.

Of course, when it comes to the ethical and existential questions that arise around cloning, people look to artistic imagination no less than scientific investigation. The newly-released The Island—a sci-fi action film about clones produced for spare parts so socialites can cheat death with the ultimate insurance policy—may be the latest would-be summer blockbuster to flop hard, but it's still an ideological crowd-pleaser for stem cell antagonists. I enjoyed the film for other reasons. Although the sci-fi takes liberties with the realities of biology and technology, its gloriously rebellious tale of cloned "insurance policies" pressing for rights to their own individuality and freedom will grip those with a soft-spot for liberation stories. They want the bacon when health experts serve them oatmeal, a blue suit when they get a gray. And their escape from that island is a cathartic journey we can join in on, even if the film's larger critique of cloning for organs doesn't address the scientific technology that would almost certainly provide such benefits without requiring the growth of a sentient being, or even one endowed with a nervous system.

Reason has made serious forays into the debate over stem-cell research and its possible benefits since it began, and you can check out a compendium of Reason coverage of stem-cell research and cloning; or just buy Ron Bailey's new book Liberation Biology.

NEXT: Seeds of Conflict

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  1. Bush can veto anything he likes. He has (happily) lost this war.

  2. You know, I hope he vetoes it, just so we can find out if he actually knows how to veto something.

  3. thoreau,

    He’ll have to open the “Veto Tutorial” first.

  4. the debate over stem-cell research and its possible benefits

    I think the Fundies make a good point when the ask us to compare the actual realized benefits of embryonic cell research against “non-baby-killing” stem cells. So far all the progress is in non-embryonic cells, so if there are limited resources, that seems them smart place to work. Someday the debate will have to be decided, but we can save more people faster by concentrating on what’s working.

    And I agree with thoreau that I would be nifty to see GWB veto something, anything…but be careful what we wish for when he vetoes fair treatment of detainees.

  5. Dyanmist,

    So far all the progress is in non-embryonic cells…

    Untrue. For example, the Mayo Clinic recently used embryonic stem cells to regenerate heart tissue. Maybe you ought to know what is and isn’t working before you make such grand statements.

  6. Maybe somebody could be just a tiny bit nicer when pointing out errors.

  7. Bush can veto anything he likes. He has (happily) lost this war.

    That doesn’t sound like a 100% pure libertarian statement to me. You, thug, are forcing me to pay for your pet medical project without my consent.

  8. thoreau,

    Are you trying to rehabilitate Hakluyt again? All you got out of the last effort was grossly out-o-place smileys. 🙂

  9. crimethink’s revenge,

    I’d be more than happy to give up research money. 🙂

    My point was of course that this research is being done veto or not.

    thoreau,

    You shouldn’t be so self-critical.

  10. You shouldn’t be so self-critical.

    Hakluyt, you should emulate my mistakes 😉

  11. Hakluyt: One instance, if true, doesn’t make a pattern. I’ve looked up a number of your claims and it seems you like to make stuff up. But that’s beside the point…again, look to the idea: There are actual practical treatments developed from non-embryo research, while embryo research has far less to offer sick people right now.

    *dons flame shield*

  12. Anyway, my wife tells me that the potential for cures involved in RNA(i) research is even more fantastic. Of course, I’m sure there’ll be a “every RNA” is sacred crowd popping up soon enough to oppose such research.

  13. Dynamist,

    I’ve looked up a number of your claims and it seems you like to make stuff up.

    Such as? Specifics please. 🙂

    There are actual practical treatments developed from non-embryo research, while embryo research has far less to offer sick people right now.

    Sorry, but that sort of attitude makes very little sense.

  14. One instance, if true, doesn’t make a pattern.

    Of course, it is true:

    http://www.the-aps.org/press/journal/04/23.htm

  15. “I’m sure there’ll be a “every RNA” is sacred crowd”

    Well, MY RNA is sacred. In fact, I think I’ll patent it, just in case it contains something that everyone else is going to want.

    🙂

  16. Dynamist,

    BTW, maybe you should stop changing the goalposts:

    So far all the progress is in non-embryonic cells…

    …while embryo research has far less to offer sick people right now.

  17. linguist,

    RNA(i) was only discovered recently (the late 1990s), so that might be why the freaks haven’t lobbied against RNA(i) research yet.

  18. Dyanmist,

    Probably what you don’t understand is that therapeutic research using adult stem cells is decades old, whereas therapeutic research using embryonic stem cells is only about seven years old (if that). Remember, we’ve been isolating adult stem cells in bone marrow, etc. adults for a long time, but the isolation and growth of embryonic stem cells in a lab only occurred in 1998.

  19. I’m pretty sure “The Island” is a big-budget remake of “Parts: the Clonus Horror,” ably deconstructed by MST3K

  20. Why are so many liberatarians seemingly arguing for the spending of public money to do medical research?

    Stem cell research abolitionists are retarded, but I’d rather leave this sort of thing to the private sector.

  21. Sandy,

    Well, the book Coma also has the same flavor.

  22. Jeff: If there were no handouts, I wonder where researchers would focus their efforts? There’s room for both, but the bulk of for-profit money goes to expanding proven techniques first. It seems that, in this case, “short-sighted” or “free market” thinking will help more people faster than fighting about the potentials of controversial research.

  23. “Why are so many liberatrians seemingly arguing for the spending of public money to do medical research?”

    As laid out in the article, the perception in the research community is that the restriction on federal funds is merely the first step to a total ban on work in the field. As a result, resources and staff are hard to come by. (Why commit to 4-6 years of PhD work on a subject when you may be a federal felon by the end of your studies?)

  24. SR: 4-6 years of living off the state gravy train, perhaps? Afterward you can move into the harsh world of working for what people will freely pay ou to do.

  25. Dynamist,

    I’ve looked up a number of your claims and it seems you like to make stuff up.

    Such as? Specifics please. 🙂

    If there were no handouts, I wonder where researchers would focus their efforts?

    The same places they are focusing them now. After all, most research money comes from the private sector to begin with.

  26. Dynamist,

    Most folks seeing PhDs (in any field) aren’t on government-funded gravy trains.

  27. SR,

    Oh definately. The religionist-Republican agenda is to ban embryonic stem cell research.

  28. After all, most research money comes from the private sector to begin with.

    and

    Most folks seeing PhDs (in any field) aren’t on government-funded gravy trains.

    Citations, please?

    If you’re referring to basic research in science, predominantly done in academia, then you’re almost certainly wrong.

    If you’re referring to research further along in the pipeline then yes, almost all of it is done in industry.

  29. I think that the evidence is that stem-cell research will improve and even save lives. With capitalistic, market dynamics behind it, probably lotsa lives. Let’s not worry that vetoing expanding federal funding of it will lead to an outright ban. Vetoing this spending bill is the principled thing to do. (Is this really Bush we’re talking about?) Also, if the neo-ludite opponents of stem-cell research can’t find vent for this opposition in thwarting government funding of it, they may well find other directions to expend this energy, such as regulating or proscribing private stem-cell research.

    Bottom line of principle: It’s not fair for me to force those who oppose it, to pay for it.

  30. thoreau,

    I see you fallen in with the myth that most funding of basic science is from the government. That’s simply not the case. The CATO institute has done some nice stuff in this area.

    Most of the folks at Dartmouth that my wife knows are getting their funding from non-government sources; such as the American Cancer Society, HHMI, etc.

  31. Hakluyt-

    In the physical sciences, almost all of the academic work is done with NSF, DOE, DOD, or NASA grants. Private sources are rarely cited in papers and conference presentations. I’ve always heard that biology departments are heavily dependent on NIH. And math departments are heavily dependent on undergraduate tuition 😉

    Do you have some numbers here?

  32. BTW, to be clear, industrial funding of physical science is improving (and that’s a good thing), but there’s still a lot of catch-up to do.

  33. thoreau,

    I’ve directed you to CATO. They have published a number of papers on the issue of government funding of science. I believe one of their findings was that close to 95% of all useful research for the market comes from in-house corporate research.

  34. thoreau,

    The point is that government could end all funding of science tomorrow and we wouldn’t notice that it ended.

  35. Sandy, I’m glad someone else noticed. I mean, my god, is Hollywood really so hard up for good movies to ruin that they need to remake bad ones now?

    It was the best episode of MST3K ever, though…

  36. Hak: Your wife works at Dartmouth? We are practically neighbors. What a scary thought.

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