When Karl Rove told a Denver newspaper that Bush would exercise his first veto of the stem cell bill a couple weeks ago, he included one big whopper in his claim:
Recent studies, he said, show that researchers "have far more promise from adult stem cells than from embryonic stem cells."
This is a ridiculous fiction being told by the religious right constantly on this issue. They've taken the fact that adult stem cells are useful in some treatments (which is true) and exaggerated it beyond belief, now claiming that they have more promise than embryonic stem cells. But that is a claim that not even those stem cell researchers who oppose the use of embryonic stem cells for such research will not back up. The Chicago Tribune did an excellent job of tracking down those researchers and putting the White House on the spot on the issue.
But Rove's negative appraisal of embryonic stem cell research--echoed by many opponents of funding for such research--is inaccurate, according to most stem cell research scientists, including a dozen contacted for this story.
The field of stem cell medicine is too young and unproven to make such judgments, experts say. Many of those researchers either specialize in adult stem cells or share Bush's moral reservations about embryonic stem cells.
"[Rove's] statement is just not true," said Dr. Michael Clarke, associate director of the stem cell institute at Stanford University, who in 2003 published the first study showing how adult stem cells replenish themselves.
If opponents of embryonic stem cell research object on moral grounds, "I'm willing to live with that," Clarke said, though he disagrees. But, he said, "I'm not willing to live with statements that are misleading."
Dr. Markus Grompe, director of the stem cell center at the Oregon Health and Science University, is a Catholic who objects to research involving the destruction of embryos and is seeking alternative ways of making stem cells. But Grompe said there is "no factual basis to compare the promise" of adult stem cells and cells taken from embryos.
Grompe said, "I think it's a problem when [opponents of embryonic research] make a scientific argument as opposed to stating the real reason they are opposed--which is [that] it's a moral, ethical problem."
Last week, the journal Science published a letter from three researchers criticizing the claim that adult stem cells are preferable to embryonic stem cells. The authors included Dr. Steven Teitelbaum of Washington University in St. Louis, who has used adult stem cells to treat bone diseases in children. The authors wrote that the exaggerated claims for adult stem cells "mislead laypeople and cruelly deceive patients."
The paper also pressed White House spokesmen to provide the names of stem cell researchers who agreed with Rove's claim. They could not:
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius on Tuesday could not provide the name of a stem cell researcher who shares Rove's views on the superior promise of adult stem cells.
One of the only published scientists arguing that adult stem cells are better is David Prentice, a former professor of life sciences at Indiana State University and now a fellow at the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group.
The letter to Science last week was critical of a list Prentice compiled of 72 diseases that have been treated with adult stem cells.
Yet most of the treatments on the list "remain unproven," wrote Teitelbaum of Washington University and his co-authors, who claimed that Prentice "misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments."
Prentice said in an interview that the Science authors "put words in our mouths"--he never claimed that the adult stem cell therapies were proven, only that they had benefited some patients. But he said some of his citations were unwarranted..
"We've cleaned up that list now," he said. Asked how the errors occurred, he said, "I think things just got stuck in."
No one doubts that adult stem cell research has potential for treating many conditions. At the same time, no one - not even those stem cell researchers who oppose using embryonic cells - doubts that the use of embryonic stem cells has even more potential for treating a wider range of conditions. From a scientific standpoint, both have promise, but one clearly has more promise and it's obviously not an either/or choice. Research should continue on both types of stem cells.
Ronald Bailey had an excellent op-ed piece in the Salt Lake Tribune about Bush's veto, where he made a few compelling arguments. First, he points out the absurdity of treating these embryos as equivalent to human lives that already exist. And he points out that no one really means it when they say it anyway:
Culturally we do not mourn the deaths of these millions of embryos as we would the death of a child because we know that these embryos are not people. Try this thought experiment. A fire breaks out in a fertility clinic and you have a choice: You can save a 3-year-old child or a Petri dish containing 10 7-day-old embryos. Which do you choose to rescue?
The answer is obvious. Even the most dedicated anti-abortion advocate would automatically rescue the 3 year old and not the petri dishs or the embryos in the freezer. Bailey also points out one very important fact that the religious right simply will not recognize: that Bush's veto will not save a single embryo from destruction. They will be disposed of one way or the other, either thrown out or used for research. That's it. That's the only choice.
And by the way, here is a perfect example of the vacuousness of conservative rhetoric about "ignoring the will of the people". Poll after poll shows that the public supports embryonic stem cell research by better than a 2/1 margin. And Bailey points out that the administration is trying to pull a fast one on the public with two other stem cell bills that do nothing at all:
Bush and conservative Republicans recognize they are on the wrong side of science and public opinion. So Karl Rove and company have come up with an election-year smokescreen. To help Republicans running for re-election on the politically untenable position of opposing biomedical research that a substantial majority of Americans support, Bush is using two other stem cell bills to mislead constituents about where conservative Republicans really stand. Opponents of stem cell research, like Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., calculate that their support for these bills will enable them to say - with fingers crossed and a half-way straight face, "I voted for stem cell research."
One of the two deceptive bills, the Fetal Farming Prohibition Act, was introduced by Santorum and Brownback and signed by Bush. That act outlaws using tissues from human fetuses that were "deliberately initiated to provide such tissue(s)" or from human fetuses that were "gestated in the uterus of a nonhuman animal."
Sounds yucky, right? Of course, that's the point. They hope to make voters queasy about embryonic stem cell research by falsely linking it to an idea many people find repugnant. In reality, no researchers have proposed going forward with deriving tissues in this way. Outlawing fetal farming is purely about political science, not real science.
The other misleading bill, the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act, directs the National Institutes of Health to support basic and applied research to develop stem cells derived from adult tissues and umbilical cords. However, the NIH already spends $200 million on such research each year. Basically the bill directs the NIH to do what it is already doing. The only purpose of the bill is to fool voters into thinking that embryonic stem cell research opponents in Congress are "doing something" about encouraging stem cell cures when in fact they are vetoing and standing in the way of research that could lead to new treatments.
Is anyone surprised?
I missed the name of the gentleman, but I heard a great analogy on the radio. He likened it to organ donors. When many people die, instead of allowing their organs to be buried or burned they donate them to people who need those organs. Stem cell research is no different - instead of being thrown out as medical waste they can be used to save and improve lives.
"I think it's a problem when [opponents of embryonic research] make a scientific argument as opposed to stating the real reason they are opposed--which is [that] it's a moral, ethical problem
a Catholic who objects to research involving the destruction of embryos
I just don't see how one can have a legitimate ethical or moral problem with stem cell research without also having the same with any embryo work period. Like you mentioned the choices are research for the betterment of humanity or perpetual freezing and eventual destruction en masse. It doesn't seem moral, ethical, or rational to favor that while withholding the promise of help for so many.
I suspect that almost everyone faced with the burning building scenario would not only choose the baby, they would choose to save their their pet, their personal belongings, and anything else with more monetary value than a vial of frozen embryos.
As I mentioned on another thread, IVF treatments (including those so-called snowflake adoptions) "kill" many magnitudes more embryos than will ever be destroyed for the purposes of stem cell research.
Thirty years after the first treatment, IVF is no longer controversial to the "culture of life" crowd. The same will happen not long after the first life-saving treatment from embryonic stem cells is rolled out. They claim to be driven by a higher moral standard than the rest of us, but when the rubber hits the road, we all turn into moral pragmatists if the lives of our loved ones are at stake.
Well, that explains Jason's recent trolling on Pharyngula. I had thought I had him nailed as somebody who does nothing but repeat rightwing talking points, but there he was going on a one-man crusade for adult stem cells, to my mind a curious issue for someone who doesn't seem mildly informed or even interested in science. See http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/07/more_stem_cell_talk.php#comm…
It looks like my initial assessment was right.
All of these anti-stem-cell (and anti-evolution, and so forth) people are plainly NOT really Christian - nor Jewish for that matter
For both of those groups, there's this list of 10 laws (so important that they want them displayed in public buildings) that are supposed to be followed. I would have sworn one of them prohibited bearing false witness...
The argument about saving X instead of Y is to my mind not only not likely to be convincing but actually likely to make some undecided people feel a greater revulsion than they felt before at the idea of embryo research. For those undecided, the embryos in the story are not so much objects as very young people. If we really want to win this fight for embryo stem-cell research, it's necessary to make arguments that will appeal to such people. And simply insisting that embryos are not very young people isn't going to do it.
The comparison of the three-year-old to the embryos may well result in these undecided people acknowledging they would save the child, knowing in their hearts that they would feel more empathy with him because he seems more familiar. Certainly, if you asked me who I would save in a fire, my own two-year-old grandson or your two-month-old twins, I know in my heart I'd take Devon and run.
But the mere thought of what I would do makes me cringe and causes me to want to examine my conscience. It's a guilt-inducing thought exercise, and certainly doesn't lead me to conclude that it must be really true that your twins are worth less than my grandson or that only infants of three months up are really people. In fact, if your twins show up later in some other scenario not involving my grandson, I'd probably find myself prejudiced in their favor.
Because of this guilt factor, I think that "who would you save" thing may be as likely to turn truly undecided people against embryo research as to encourage them to favor it.
On the other hand, the argument that the embryos "will be disposed of one way or the other, either thrown out or used for research" is one that I think might actually work with many people who are unsure. It is certainly the deciding fact for me. It ought to be repeated as often as possible to as wide an audience as possible.
Well, that explains Jason's recent trolling on Pharyngula
I thought the same thing Paul.
For those undecided, the embryos in the story are not so much objects as very young people. If we really want to win this fight for embryo stem-cell research, it's necessary to make arguments that will appeal to such people.
If somebody is already at the point of equating frozen embryos with human life, I don't see how any argument is going to make a difference. If such people are in fact a majority of Americans, than we might as well just give up "this fight" and perhaps suggest to them that they get cracking on a ban of IVF if they don't want a future of tens of millions of "very young people" stranded in freezers.
I also agree that the burning building argument is not a useful emotional appeal. That's not the intent. It's a thought experiment that suggests that people really do not think of embryos as equivalent to human life. The popularity and openness of fertility treatments suggests the same. For instance, abortions are widespread but few people talk about them. Yet one can certainly find people--including the religious--who will recount with great pride their struggle to bear a child. Does anyone say "Well, it was worth killing a dozen of my children to get this one"? Again, this is not an argument I would make to persuade fence-sitters, but it is a thought experiment that convinces me that much of the pro-life rhetoric is disingenuous.
My honest, cynical take is that evangelical Christians want to control sexual behavior. A big part of that control is to leave unwanted pregnancy and STDs in place as punishments. The reason they don't come out against IVF is because it is a technology addressed towards married couples who want to bear children. Now it is likely that people have honest moral reservations about abortion and even embryo destruction. It's also true that the Catholic church actually opposes IVF pretty vocally. But the differential emphasis on embryo destruction for birth control vs. embryo destruction for fertility suggests that the "pro-life" movment is less concerned with protecting human life and far more concerned with controlling sexual behavior.
The only reason that scientific applications of embryonic cell lines comes up at all is that as soon as embryos are treated as a commodity, it is impossible to claim that they can possibly be given the legal status of humans. As soon as embryos lose that status, it becomes more difficult to make the case for first trimester fetuses, and so on.
Even the most dedicated anti-abortion advocate would automatically rescue the 3 year old and not the petri dishs or the embryos in the freezer.
Ho ho ho. You might think it's obvious, but, amazingly enough, it's not as automatic as you think. From the audio at the link, I'm sure Andrew Wilkow would rescue the child when push came to shove, but the fact that someone even entertains the thought for a split second is ludicrous.
I find myself in the unusual position of disagreeing with a couple of your arguments:
1. "If somebody is already at the point of equating frozen embryos with human life, I don't see how any argument is going to make a difference. If such people are in fact a majority of Americans, than we might as well just give up . . . "
The fact that person X believes that Y is a human life doesn't necessarily mean that there are no conditions under which X would agree that Y could be put to death, or used in a medical experiment, or whatever. It just means that there has to be an argument that is powerful enough. 'You're wrong in believing this is a person at all' would not be such an argument. Many people who believe that embryos are very young people would agree to, for example, donate organs from their brain-dead child. If they were absolutely convinced that a particular embryo could, because of circumstances, never go on developing, they might indeed agree to something they could understand as a sort of parallel of organ donation (or whole-body donation).
2. " also agree that the burning building argument is not a useful emotional appeal. That's not the intent. It's a thought experiment that suggests that people really do not think of embryos as equivalent to human life."
I don't think it necessarily suggests that. A thought experiment in which people are asked whether they would save their mother or their three-year-old child would also probably result in most people choosing the child. But surely no one would think the results suggest that people don't think of their mothers as equivalent to human life. Nor does the willingness of some to sacrifice some created embryos (who would had no existence at all except for their deliberate IVF creation) for the sake of continued life for a child who could not lived otherwise necessarily mean the parents don't believe that all the embryos are very young people. It's always tempting to go the route of suggesting that those on the other side of an argument don't really quite mean what they say, but I don't think it's useful here.
I think it's worth fighting for federal funding of embryo stem-cell research, and I don't think the fact that someone believes that embryos are somehow people means that that someone will refuse to accept ALL arguments for supporting such funding.
At the risk of getting myself insulted (not from you PaulC, as the various comments I've read from you indicate that you argue, not insult), I'll be very plain here. I equate frozen embryos with human life and I support federal funding for embryo stem-cell research under the conditions in the bill vetoed by Bush. I believe that others like me can be convinced by the "donated-organ" argument, by the fact that these embryos will be destroyed anyway, and perhaps by other arguments as well.
The fact that person X believes that Y is a human life doesn't necessarily mean that there are no conditions under which X would agree that Y could be put to death, or used in a medical experiment, or whatever. It just means that there has to be an argument that is powerful enough.
Well, to personalize it a bit, if I really thought that embryos were human life, then I'd be against harvesting stem cells from the ones in the freezers and horror-stricken at the prevalence of IVF.
I cannot speak for anyone else, but I don't see it as a strong argument that the the promise of embryonic stem cell therapies could outweigh killing some human beings. If there were no conceivable alternatives and if there were near certainty about immediate benefits to people now living, I could begin to see it. It would be similar to the sort of terrible decisions people make it wartime. I think it is disingenuous to try to sell it in those terms.
The question is not one of immediate moral tradeoffs but whether we ought to be using these cell lines to do research that will take some time to pay off. It's clear to me that we should not be killing human beings just because it would advance some line of research, however promising. In that case, my conclusion would be that we ought to (a) shut down the IVF clinics, (b) rule out embryonic stem cell research and put our resources into other research avenues, (c) figure out how to save as many of the "very young people" stuck in the freezers as we possibly can. If that's an extreme conclusion, I would argue that it follows from an extreme premise.
A thought experiment in which people are asked whether they would save their mother or their three-year-old child would also probably result in most people choosing the child.
OK, now it's an embryo freezer or a photo album with the only copies of your kid's baby pictures. I would save the photo album. This is not a really tough decision for me.
Just to clarify, assume the freezer in my example contains embryos that are not likely to be implanted, ever. If it contained embryos that a number of couples were counting on using to have kids and might be their last hope for success, then I would (with significant remorse) let the photo album burn. I don't want to sound like a selfish prick. I just don't see great intrinsic value in the embryos themselves.
To follow up on the thought experiment a bit, I wonder whether those opposed to stem cell research would have any point of valuation at all. OK, if a three-year old should be saved over ten embryos, what about 20? 30? 500? Although the choice is somewhat repulsive, if the life of an embryo has any value as a human life, there should be some number at which the three-year old gets sacrificed. I suspect that there is no number.
To futher muddy the waters, snowflake parents who are perfectly fertile are (a) sacrificing anywhere from one to half-a-dozen frozen embryos to obtain their snowflake child and (b) assuming they were going to have another kid anyway, depriving a child of their own lineage a chance at life.
If advocates for snowflake children were consistent in their moral beliefs, they would be waiting until IVF treatments were much closer to being 100% successful first time with a single implantation. Pressing for more snowflake children now simply ensures a greater number of failures and deaths than will likely be necessary in the future.
(I am assuming there is no "best used before" date on the embryos, about which I may be mistaken.)
"Just to clarify, assume the freezer in my example contains embryos that are not likely to be implanted, ever."
Precisely. Whether or not those embryos have any possibility of being implanted does, for some people, make some sort of difference to at least some decisions.
Ed's arguments and the comments at that post (including yours) removed my doubts and convinced me that Bush should have signed that stem-cell research bill. As I'm not so very strange or unusual, the fact that they convinced me suggests that they could convince some others. Maybe even enough others to make a difference.
It is another clear example of the Rove strategy...which is to deliver a carefully crafted message to each constituency in order to solidify their support and motivate them for the upcoming election.
To see the stem cell debate explained with visuals and how the political argument put forth by the President is ultimately an absurd manipulation of the facts...link here:
Unless your religious faith leads you to believe a day-old embryo has a soul worth saving then it's hard to argue that something without a main, a personality, a brain, a nervous system of any kind should be accorded the same or similar rights and respects as a fully developed human being.
But I see the attraction of the absolutists position--it removes any doubt and uncertainty over where we should draw the line regarding the use of embryos in research, IVF, etc. Would it, for example, be permissable to grow an embryo to the early fetal stage, for the purposes of harvesting and growing individual organs for transplants? Most people would recoil in horror at the prospect, but some would argue that since there is still no "personhood" (as they would define it) then the harvesting would still be morally acceptable.
And if we ever passed that hurdle they would the growing of a cloned spare body (without a functioning brain) for later harvesting of organs be acceptable? Today, obviously not, but in the future? Who knows?
I suspect we're just at the very beginning of a vast array of tough ethical issues concerning what is human life we will have to deal with over the next few decades and beyond. It's quite right that we have a rigourous ethics debate over each issue that comes up so that we don't find ourselves sliding precipitously down that slippery slope so many people are afraid of. The line will be drawn at some point, but I expect that line will be picked up and moved more several times as society's mores and ethical viewpoints change.
It can be a scary thought and probably should be.
"But that is a claim that not even those stem cell researchers who oppose the use of embryonic stem cells for such research will not back up."
I think you want to nix the second "not" in this sentence.
"would the growing of a cloned spare body (without a functioning brain) for later harvesting of organs be acceptable?"
I don't see a problem with it. In fact, ever since I've been a kid, I've thought that would be the perfect way to grow replacement organs - they're a whole lot better than any synthetic parts we can make right now, and no sentient creatures would have to be killed to get them. Why should the fact that a clump of meat has the proper genetic material make it more valuable than say, a pig or a mouse that do have brains and can experience emotions/feelings? (not that I'm against animal testing)
OK, if a three-year old should be saved over ten embryos, what about 20? 30? 500? Although the choice is somewhat repulsive, if the life of an embryo has any value as a human life, there should be some number at which the three-year old gets sacrificed. I suspect that there is no number.
How do you view human life relative to other organisms on the planet? As some sort of holy creation that trumps (and stands above) the rest of the animal kingdom's basic E-S-F functions?
While I really don't understand the religious/fundy view of the holiness of the embryo, likewise I don't understand the ongoing (and to me illogical) view that life needs to be extended indefinitely, particularly when considering overpopulation or overconsumption or over-utilization of resources.
It seems that scientists understand that a herd can overgrow it's food supply/environment and have little issues with culling it, don't they? So obviously, human life is so special not only to the fundies but to scientists as well -- such that we've endowed ourselves with rights to do patently self destructive things in order to prolong life or artificially enable it.
I have a different challenge for people who say they are morally opposed to allowing federally funded research on embryonic stem cells that are destined to be destroyed:
ESC research is going to happen with or without federal funds. The research will be done with private funds or in other countries. Say 20 years from now your grandchild, your parent, or you has a fatal or debilitating illness for which there is a treatment -- even a cure -- that came about thanks to ESC research. Would you refuse the treatment (for your grandchild, parent or self) on moral grounds?
There are plenty of people who oppose some or all research on animals. (I have some problems with that.) How many refuse treatment?