Stem Cell Research

Get Ready for Veto Number 2 (Embryonic Stem Cell Edition)

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As Congress gets ready to pass legislation overturning the 2001 limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the White House is pledged to veto same (the only time Bush has vetoed anything). While it's likely the Senate has the votes to overrule the veto, it seems that the House doesn't.

From a preemptive White House report that effectively annouces Bush veto:

"The stem cell debate is only the first in what will be an onrushing train of biotechnology challenges in our future. We must establish a constructive precedent here for taking the moral dimensions of these issues seriously," read the report, entitled Advancing Stem Cell Science without Destroying Human Life….

"Without an understanding that life begins at conception, and that an embryo is a nascent human being, there will always be arguments that other uses, takeovers, and make-overs of embryos are justified by potential scientific and medical benefits," the White House report reads.

Full news account here in Scientific American.

Of course, if the White House seriously believes that "all life begins at conception, and that an embryo is a nascent human being," then the question isn't why Bush is limiting federal money, but why he isn't pulling the plug completely. Or for that matter, why he isn't doing something to bring the thousands of frozen embryos sitting on the shelves in American fertility clinics and laboratories to term. Recall how press secretary Tony Snow summarized his boss' opposition to embryonic stem cells: "The simple answer is he thinks murder's wrong."

Could it be that Bush's opposition–and that of many people against embryonic stem cell research–is more symbolic than real? That it is as much a political signaling device as a heartfelt belief? If the creation of embryonic stem cells (and, of course, unused embryos from IVF and other procedures) is akin to murder, how can Bush stand on the sidelines? Given the fact that Bush is willing to fund some stem-cell research, this is not a debate about federal funding in general (my default setting on the feds funding just about anything other than defense and courts is no) but about attitudes toward science, reproductive rights, and other issues in play in the culture wars.

Reason's Ronald Bailey,  explained why stem cells aren't babies here.

He explained why researchers don't need the feds here.

NEXT: There Are Good Guys and There Are Bad Guys, There Are Crooks and Criminals

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  1. Bush gets unfairly beat up on this one. There was never federal funding for stem-cell research before Bush. I don’t agree with his moralist position, but if it can cure all the diseases people say it can, why not let big pharma finance the research? Or some other organizations – the point being, private money.

    It’s not like Bush is banning the research, he just doesn’t want the government to fund it. Bridges to nowhere are okay, but stem-cell research is not. Again, I don’t agree with that prioritization, but it’s a start.

  2. If Stem cells really are the pancea their supporters claim them to be, federal funding means absolutely nothing. If there are miracle drugs that can be developed, it won’t take federal money to develop them. The whole fight is all too typical of government. Politicians grand stand and demogog over emotional issues over which they have no real control of influence.

  3. Like yesterdays posters finding small virtue in the War on Drugs for ending asparagus tariffs,I find virtue in the moralists preventing federal funding of ANYTHING not specifically in the constitution.

  4. Mike,

    There is a huge difference between not assigning funding, on the one hand, and banning use of federal funds on the other. The latter means that entirely new facilities must be built for stem cell research, with their own completely independent staff. If so much as one dollar of federal funds went into building a university lab, for example, the lab is off limits under Bush’s bill. This was not the case in previous years– although no specific money was given for stem cell research, scientists could at least use their own private research grant money to rent out facilities and equipment that had federal funding.

    John,

    If Bush had made all stem cell research illegal on Monday through Friday (but legal on the weekends), one could say that “if it’s so great, people will find a way to do it.” That’s true, but it’s dismissive of the huge and unnecessary roadblock that Bush has thrown into place.

  5. The large block of “up” arrows is right. I’d be perfectly fine if no federal funds were appropriated for stem cell research– so long as the research wasn’t banned from using federal money indirectly.

  6. I’m just glad private organizations are taking the ball and running with it. It just proves the greater libertarian point that the federal government need not be involved for people to innovate nor to be moral. But, there’s something fishy here I think is being overlooked. It is possible that Bush refuses embryonic stem cell funding on moral grounds but something tells me that some Congresspersons that oppose the funding do so because pharmaceutical companies that tend to lose money if cures are found line their pockets. Maybe not, but no one ever seems to be concerned for ailing patients, probably not even the supporters on Congress who are probably getting lobby support from other groups. Life saving rarely comes ahead of cash grabbing.

    And how can Bush say he is opposed to murder of any kind when he willingly and forcefully sends Americans to die overseas. He knows some of them will be murdered yet he does not find alternatives to war that leads to their deaths.

  7. Nick —

    Do not conflate killing in a war with murder, unless you want to make the argument that ALL wars (including World War II, the Civil War, and the Star Wars Trilogy,) are little more than murder, with the moral accusation that comes with it.

  8. It has now been determined that the stem cells in amniotic fluid are quite possibly better suited for developing cures. They are somewhat more developed than embryonic stem cells and as such, are less likely to develop uncontrollably.

    Now I personally have no qualms with embryonic stem sell research (or research done on political prisoners for that matter) but it makes me wonder if this would have even been considered had not the federal funding ban been in place.

    Necessity is the mother of invention.

  9. “The latter means that entirely new facilities must be built for stem cell research, with their own completely independent staff. If so much as one dollar of federal funds went into building a university lab, for example, the lab is off limits under Bush’s bill. This was not the case in previous years– although no specific money was given for stem cell research, scientists could at least use their own private research grant money to rent out facilities and equipment that had federal funding.”

    In that light, it’s amazing Henry Ford was able to manufacture automobiles without federal funding.

  10. “If Stem cells really are the pancea their supporters claim them to be, federal funding means absolutely nothing. If there are miracle drugs that can be developed, it won’t take federal money to develop them.”

    Um, people are dying of diseases that stem cells might be able to cure. The more people working on the science the better. The possible benefits are staggering. From growing new organs to eradicating cancer.

    But you’re right let’s slow down and take time to debate government funding issues. After you’re not sick.

  11. Why is he not caring about extra IVF embryos? Because he’s a hypocrite.

  12. Chevy,

    If the government prohibited Ford’s cars from using roads paid for with federal dollars, and insisted that Ford build his own roads, then yes, it would have been quite a miracle. Big research facilities, like roads, are almost always at least partially funded by federal grants. Singling out stem cell research as different from all the other types of research that use those facilities is arbitrary and crippling.

  13. if it can cure all the diseases people say it can, why not let big pharma finance the research

    Because what with price controls being threatened by the Dem Congress, big pharma is getting out of the research business?

  14. JKP, if you’re trying to find wars that don’t have horrifying murderous innocent-civilian-slaughtering atrocities in them, I probably wouldn’t pick WWII or the Civil War.

  15. The large block of “up” arrows is right. I’d be perfectly fine if no federal funds were appropriated for stem cell research– so long as the research wasn’t banned from using federal money indirectly.

    Here’s the question in my mind – is this actually saving the taxpayer’s money, or is it simply preventing them from getting the best value for the money they have to pay anyway?

    Sure, I don’t think the government should run out and appropriate new funding for this particular type of research. But if a chunk of money is already allocated for research in general, I don’t see why stem cell research should be excluded from competing for it.

    The salient point is, does barring funding put any money back in the taxpayer’s wallet, or does it just force the money to be spent on other, perhaps less promising research?

  16. Nothing puts money back in the taxpayer’s wallet, I offer Ending Welfare As We Know It as Exhibit 1.

    Welfare rolls Down.

    Welfare and Social Spending Up.

    Taxpayers 0

    Government 1

  17. I want my ground-up Baby Pills NOW!
    And I want the Government to pay for ’em.
    I might get sick and die!The Government OWES me ground up Baby Pills and only stupid superstitious Christians oppose them.
    I wannnnnnnnnnnnt!!! Waaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!
    Give me my ground up baby Pills!

  18. “That it is as much a political signaling device as a heartfelt belief? If the creation of embryonic stem cells (and, of course, unused embryos from IVF and other procedures) is akin to murder, how can Bush stand on the sidelines?”

    And Lincoln was not serious about freeing the slaves because the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to areas of the country still under CSA control and not the slaves in Union territory.

    Maybe, just maybe, Bush did it this way because it was the only thing he has legitimate authority to do, and that was politically feasible.

  19. “The latter means that entirely new facilities must be built for stem cell research, with their own completely independent staff. If so much as one dollar of federal funds went into building a university lab, for example, the lab is off limits under Bush’s bill. This was not the case in previous years– although no specific money was given for stem cell research, scientists could at least use their own private research grant money to rent out facilities and equipment that had federal funding.”

    An illuminating point. (Another frequent poster here, Mo, pointed this out in the past.)

    After thinking about this, my conclusion is … waaah. Once you take the federal government’s filthy lucre, you dance to its tune. This should at least have the salutatory effect of demonstrating that accepting federal subsidies is poison — exacting costs not only from the taxpayers, but from those on the receiving end as well, and those who work with them. It might discourage a few of the piglets from lunging for the government teat next time. Get rich on your own dime, not from my 1040.

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