The Bush Veto: The Republican War on Science Escalates

Art Caplan has an extremely powerful piece denouncing Bush's latest action. And indeed, it's truly unbelievable: Bush misleads us about the extent to which his stem cell policy will support research, never apologizes, and then blocks the expansion of that policy once it has become entirely clear that it did not succeed on the president's own terms--i.e., by supporting adequate research. But let Caplan say it:

With his veto the president has now reaffirmed a policy that never made any sense, garnered no scientific support to speak of, was abandoned by both houses of Congress and the leaders of his own party and, most importantly, got no traction with those most in need of the benefits of the research - patients and their families.

The President has now told doctors, researchers and patients to drop dead. Science policy in the Bush administration is best made in the White House, not by scientists and not by Congress.

Meanwhile, further extending the war on science, we learn via the Progress Report that Karl Rove has declared that scientists have found "far more promise from adult stem cells than from embryonic stem cells." If that's really true, then why don't Bush and Rove push for the defunding of the National Institutes of Health, which must be egregiously misleading the nation with its statement that "Human embryonic stem cells are thought to have much greater developmental potential than adult stem cells"?


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I caught part of Dobson's reponse to the stem cell veto. He and his radio show guests were saying that adult stem cells are a better candidate for research because (1) there are actual adult stem cell treatments being used now whereas there are zero embryonic stem cell treatments being used anywhere in the world; (2) embryonic stem cells are more susceptible to tumors; and (3) of course, there's no moral issue with the use of adult stem cells. I'm not too familiar with the stem cell debate but it did strike me that they kept focusing on the term "embryo", probably equating this debate to the abortion debate. But aren't stem cells harvested from a very early stage (much less developed embryo)? They also commented on the 400,000 frozen embryos which people talk about using "since they'd be destroyed anyway" and noted that most were intended for possible future use by parents and that only a small fraction (2%) would be destroyed. 2% is a small fraction, but that's still a large number overall (8,000). I can see their concerns (sacrificing human life, or potential life), but I have to suspect that they're not telling the whole story (based on their history on other topics).

Phobos, I'm neither a physician nor scientist, but let me run through a brief primer addressing your questions. Embryonic stem cells are derived from blastulae created via in vitro fertilization. The blastula is a sphere of about 100 or so cells shaped like a hollow sphere formed several days after an egg is fertilized. In utero it would normally attach itself to the lining of the uterus. But in vitro it is either frozen stored in liquid nitrogen or implanted in a petri dish for harvesting stem cells. In size it's a very small fraction of the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Creating such blastulae involves only the harvesting of egg from a woman and sperm from a man. It does not require or use abortion. The fundamental posture of Dobson, Bush, and their supporteres is that life begins at conception, when a sperm fertilizes a egg; they argue that, from that point, on a blastula is endowed with a unique soul and is a human being. That position ignores the fact that well over half of all fertilizations (if my memory serves me correctly) never implant and of those that do, a very substantial spontaneously abort, most in the first few weeks when the woman isn't even aware she's pregnant. In other words Bush's and Dobson's argument is fundamentally (no pun intended) religious and not in the least scientific. And Dobson, and Bush as well, are flatly wrong to argue that adult stem cells offer better prospects of for producing unique therapies than embryonic stem cells. No one in the field agrees with them.

Thanks, Keanus. Not to play semantics, but I wonder if the debate would be less heated if they were called blastula stem cells instead of embryonic. Probably not.

Anyone want to compare the Bush spending on stem cells with the Clinton spending?

By Walter E. Wallis. (not verified) on 22 Jul 2006 #permalink

Anyone want to compare the Bush spending on stem cells with the Clinton spending?

I'm not really sure how that's relevant.

Human embryonic stem cells weren't even isolated until 1998. And (someone correct me if I'm wrong) allocation of federal money for biological research is via NSF and NIH grants, in the absence of any specially-focused federal initiatives. Thus, prior to Bush's restriction on federal stem cell research funding in 2002, the amount of spending on stem cell research was not a function of which administration was in power.

"Stephen Hawking, the world's best-known living scientist, has attacked "reactionary" forces in Europe and America which are trying to ban research into stem cells from human embryos." -- The Independent…

The nerve of that guy. I mean, who the hell does he think he is? God? Or George Bush?

Hawking (one of the world's most brilliant minds) has a degenerative nerve disease that has confined him to a wheelchair and allowed only the movement of a few of his fingers for much of his life.

"If that's really true, then why don't Bush and Rove push for the defunding of the National Institutes of Health..."

Shh! Don't give them any ideas!