Friday, July 15, 2005

The Dark Side of Stem Cell Politics

The NYTimes opines this morning:
"As the Senate showdown looms, the White House, sensing likely defeat, is playing a political game with Mr. Frist's help by touting a 'third way' proposal rooted in unproven science. The proposal would put federal funds behind the notion that researchers might eventually grow stem cells by using a technique that takes a cell or two from an early embryo without destroying the embryo. Certainly, any promising avenue of research should be pursued, but not at the expense of what is now the most valuable one.
Lawmakers of common sense, never mind academic credentials, will soon have the chance to stand against a policy that has already put the federal government behind several enterprising states. We urge Mr. Frist and his peers not to miss it."

Welcome to the Dark Side! Those of us who care about life from conception to natural death are now firmly defined as belonging to the Dark Side. Not only do we lack academic credentials and common sense, we want to impose "unscientific restrictions" on the noble work of the embryonic stem cell researchers. We are too awful! We must be told to go sit in the corner and shut up.

Now, where is that dunce cap???

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

George Daley's testimony before senate sub-committee

The American Journal of Bioethics quotes (at some length) the testimony of George Daley dealing with the ethical alternatives for deriving embryonic cells:
"A more recent proposal put forth by Markus Grompe is a variation on Altered Nuclear Transfer called Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming, (OAR). Grompe also suggests altering the input somatic cell so as to preclude formation of a viable human embryo. He proposes using a gene like nanog, which might promote reprogramming of the donor somatic cell directly to something that resembles an embryonic stem cell, which is pluripotent, and avoids generating a cell like a zygote, which is totipotent-that is, able to divide on its own and form a viable human blastocyst. Scientifically, this idea is a reasonable hypothesis that must be tested and might or might not work. But even if this strategy works in mice, there is no guarantee it will work in humans, and verification would then require the creation and destruction of many manipulated human embryos, which might or might not have the altered characteristics that would make this method ethically "acceptable". If it works, I am concerned that in order to use Federal dollars for research US Scientists will be relegated to less-efficient processes like Altered Nuclear Transfer, while Korean scientists employ superior techniques."

Because its all about beating "them".
Further on he makes the point that:
Research on each of these proposed strategies is at present untested in human cells, but if judged to be meritorious by the peer review process, should be funded. However, the already proven routes to obtaining embryonic stem cells from excess IVF embryos or through the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer should not be put on hold pending the outcomes of the more speculative methods.

So, "real scientists" aren't going to stop doing what they want, while we tinker around with proving ethically acceptable methods are workable. Fine. But let's not use taxpayer money to fund it. Let the visionary capitalists provide the cash.
Finally, he concludes:
Science certainly cannot define when in the gradual course of human development we deserve individual and autonomous rights.

You are correct, sir! So why are you trying to shut out from the public debate the very people who can help determine that point?
It seems to me that it ought to be a pretty important point to have clearly defined before preceding. But that's just me, and I am an extremist.

the competition -- the true extremists....

StemPAC announces:
"In an effort to wage a national campaign against extremist elected officials who have been holding up stem cell research, a bipartisan team of industry leading grassroots mobilizers, political consultants, and private sector stem cell research supporters today officially launched 'StemPAC.' StemPac, anchored by its namesake web site, is a 527 organization that will unite and mobilize pro-stem cell research activists and millions of Americans who are clamoring for the United States to take a leadership role in stem cell research.
'StemPac will hold accountable any elected or appointed official who holds up the promise of stem cell research based on their own personal ideology or outright ignorance,' explained John Hlinko, a leader of the effort, and VP at the political consulting firm Grassroots Enterprise. 'The will of the majority has been ignored, hope for millions with debilitating illnesses has been needlessly delayed, and this promising industry of the future is being gradually outsourced to other nations with each passing day. It's time to fight back.'
In coming weeks, StemPAC plans to aggressively work on behalf of pro-stem cell legislation being considered right now in the U.S. Senate (H.R. 810 specifically, without amendment -- see for details). Thereafter, it plans to go on the offense, fighting for stem cell funding on the federal level, and for more sensible regulations and legislation in the states as well. "

Anybody know of a concentrated effort like this on our side?
Me either.

Stem-cell transplant did not work, New Zealand patient says

A 64-year-old New Zealand woman with motor neurone disease who received controversial stem cell implants in March in China says the procedure failed, news reports said Tuesday.
Willie Terpstra reported immediate improvement in her condition when she returned from Beijing, but now says: 'I would not do it again. It cost too much money, and the result is not good.'
Two million stem cells from aborted foetuses were inserted into her brain in an operation that is banned in most Western countries.
Soon after, she was able to eat and drink properly for the first time in months, but the Daily Post in her home town of Rotorua said that now she cannot talk, is being fed by a tube inserted in her stomach, has difficulty sleeping and is resigned to dying from the fatal condition.
Using an electronic keyboard connected to a speaking machine, she told a reporter that she had kept in touch with patients she met at the Beijing hospital, and that no one who had similar surgery had improved while two had died.
She was the first New Zealander known to have undergone the implant surgery.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this situtation is the amount of press that Dr. Hongyun Huang received before and during this particular procedure. He is nothing more than a snake-oil salesman preying upon the hope of people who are truly suffering. It is thoroughly unconscionable and the press ought to be ashamed of themselves for their role in the promotion of this doctor.

Romney Vetoes Stem Cell Bill

Legislation that would increase the scope of stem cell research in Massachusetts is vetoed by Republican Governor Mitt Romney because of his opposition of human embryo cloning.
Romney says, 'It is wrong to allow science to take an assembly-line approach to the production of human embryos, the creation of which will be rooted in experimentation and destruction.'
But, Democrats, who passed the bill with enough support to override the veto, say the matter could come up for a vote next week.

What opponents can do for you...

Saletan concludes his article by stating:
It's amazing how much progress you can make when nobody wins.

He does a great job of showing how the tug and pull between scientists and ethicists is actually helping the science in this area to become stronger rather than destroying science altogether. Isn't that they way it always works? Ideas are only strengthened when open and honest debate is encouraged. Telling those with opposing views to shut-up, sit down and get out of the way of Science, can only really serve to weaken the final outcome. Stand strong fellow extremists! We do have an important role to play.

Illinois falls

The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity (CBHD) strongly denounces Gov. Blagojevich's executive order to fund embryonic stem cell research through the creation of the Illinois Regenerative Institute for Stem Cell Research with 10 million Illinois taxpayer dollars.

"Though it's commendable to want to help those who are suffering debilitating diseases and injuries, it is unconscionable to do so at the expense of other human lives," said Dr. John Kilner, president of CBHD. "This is an imposition of morally problematic research on the citizens of Illinois. The people have already spoken through the democratic process- legislation to promote this research failed in the General Assembly. Stem cell research can be pursued ethically by focusing research on adult stem cells, including cord blood cells."