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day permlink Monday, 16 August 2004

permlink Kinsley on Laura Bush on stem-cells

Michael Kinsley helps blow away the stem cell smokescreen:

Dance of the Stem Cells (
A lot of Republican politicians and operatives spoke out about stem cells last week, all miraculously making the same argument -- an argument so embarrassingly silly and disingenuous that it could only be an official campaign talking point...

As Laura Bush put it, George Bush "is the only president to ever authorize federal funding for embryonic stem cell research." ... It is true indeed that Bush's predecessors, from George Washington to Bill Clinton, failed to fund embryonic stem cell research. Even Abraham Lincoln. Not a penny for stem-cell research from any of them. Historians believe this might have been because it didn't exist yet. But that's just a guess.

George Bush gave this nascent research a tiny sliver of money and piled on a smothering load of restrictions. As Laura Bush did not note, that makes Bush the only president ever to authorize federal rules against stem cell research.

...The purpose of Bush's stem cell policy is to discourage medical research using embryos. Bush is supposed to think that these clumps of a few dozen cells are every bit as human as the people who will suffer or die from diseases that stem cells could cure. He had better believe that, because stem-cell research uses embryos being discarded by fertility clinics and doesn't actually add to the embryonic death toll at all. Only a deep conviction about the humanity of these microscopic dots -- which have fewer human characteristics than a potato -- could justify sacrificing real human lives to make the purely symbolic point that these dots are human too.

Scientists are in agreement that Bush's policy [of discouragement] is succeeding. Stem cell research has been drastically slowed. Yet Bush surrogates now pretend that the policy's real success is its failure to stop this research completely.
Yes, bragging about the research you've gone out of your way to inhibit is pretty ballsy. But nor is it an unusual pattern for this administration...
In a display of her husband's famous compassionate conservatism, Laura Bush scolded that "it really isn't fair to people who are watching a loved one suffer" to overplay the promise of stem cells. She said, helpfully, "We don't know that stem cell research will provide cures for anything."

As someone with a loved one (myself, as it happens) who has the disease (Parkinson's) for which stem cells hold the most promise, please allow me to say: Thank you so much, Mrs. Bush, for trying to make sure that I don't get too hopeful...

But talk is cheap. While Laura Bush is destroying hope by the traditional method of spreading gloom and pessimism, her husband is ... actually destroying the objective basis for hope. While she battles rhetorically against false hopes, he works to ensure that there is no hope at all.

On balance, I think I prefer her approach.
The failure of embryonic-stem-cell-research critics to condemn fertility clinics for doing more of what they supposedly hate about embryo research (i.e. discarding embryos) with rather less good coming from it (i.e. no new medical knowledge whatsoever) tells you that they're not making a serious argument, just one that plays well to their fundamentalist, anti-science base.

If fertility clinics are OK, so is embryonic stem cell research.

Money question for any journalist talking to any Republican:

If embryonic stem cell research is bad, why aren't you trying to shut down fertility clinics? permlink  

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