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Monday, July 17, 2006

YSK: Politicians Who (Say They) Oppose Stem Cell Research are Hypocrites or Ignorant

As the Senate has finally taken up debate on a series of bills designed to overturn President Bush’s ban on stem cell funding, I wanted to discuss something that you probably will not hear much about elsewhere.

First of all, here is a little background. Embryonic stem (ES) cells have the ability to become any type of cell in the body. This means they have the potential to replace damaged or defective tissues. Also, using another technology called "nuclear transfer" ES cells can be generated that are genetically identical to a specific individual. The list of conditions that may be cured/treated by ES cells is long and reads like a list of most people’s worst nightmares: diabetes, paralysis, Alzheimer’s, cancer, etc. And that does not even mention the more ambitious idea of total organ replacement, i.e. growing a kidney or heart from ES cells for a rejection free transplant. It is not an exaggeration to say that ES cells could be one of the most powerful medical technologies ever.

However, religious conservatives oppose the use of ES cell research because they contend it is based on destroying life. The life they refer to is that of human embryos. These embryos could be more accurately described as “potential life” – and this is not inevitable potential, there are many variables that need to go just right for an embryo to develop into a baby and be born. [Human reproduction is a crapshoot. We are very bad at it when compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. Mice, for example can have from 3-20 pups every 3-4 weeks. But it is not only numbers of offspring and gestation time which makes humans poor breeders, essential embryonic events such as implantation and gastrulation can fail in myriad ways. I know, I know, if we are so bad at reproduction, then why are there only 6.5 billion of us? Well, considering it took us around 200,000 years to get to this point, we haven’t exactly set any land speed records.]

Chances are you have heard most of that before. Whichever side of the issue you fall on, you probably have never heard of the hypocritical way that religious conservatives and their proxies in Washington avoid the issue of in vitro fertilization, or IVF, in their political machinations.

A Google search for “religious conservative opposition to stem cells” returned 1.5 million hits, whereas “religious conservative opposition to in vitro fertilization” returned 78,800. [Note: this is not a scientific poll.] This is quite a disproportionate amount of chatter considering that IVF has destroyed far more embryos (or has generated embryos that will never see the outside of a liquid nitrogen freezer) than stem cell research ever has or, by its very nature, would need. The fact is that no mainstream religious conservative (and certainly no politician) will ever decry IVF as part of their so-called “culture of death”. Why? Because IVF is wildly popular and has helped many people (the majority of them relatively affluent – i.e. people who can give money to political organizations) conceive children. Pictures of wealthy people holding their adorable children are not the kinds of images religious conservatives want used against them. [They want to use those images against their opponents.] Only the fringe of the fringe openly opposes IVF. [One notable exception to this is the Catholic Church which, whatever you may think of it, has a very consistent position when it comes to sanctity of life issues. No anti-abortion, pro-death penalty advocates to be found in Vatican City. This includes being openly anti-IVF.]

The good news is that the bill overturning the Bush ban is likely to pass. The bad news is that President Bush will almost certainly veto it. Furthermore, it does not appear that the Congress could muster the 2/3 majority necessary to override the veto (which is ironic since around 2/3 of Americans support ES cell research). I am certain, however, that all these events will occur without discussion of the IVF hypocrisy.

The hypocrites win (for now). I think that is just sad.

Disclaimer: I am not attacking people who truly believe that a single-cell should have the same rights as a person (particularly if that person is on death row). Even if I do not agree with it, if you have an ethic that you apply consistently you are not a hypocrite, which is the whole point. This post is meant to illustrate how people use the stem cell issue for their own gain and do not really care about saving embryos/life.

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Stem Cell Archive
YSK: Politicians Who (Say They) Oppose Stem Cell Research are Hypocites or Ignorant
V on Stem Cell Hypocrisy
V: Thoughts on Embryonic Stem Cell Matters, Part 2
V: Thoughts on Embryonic Stem Cell Matters, Part 3
V: Thoughts on Embryonic Stem Cell Matters, Conclusion
V: The Stem Cell Soap Opera Continues
The Ban on Federal Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research Does not Have a Leg to Stand on
Embryonic Stem Cell Ignorance: Enough Already

For more on stem cell advances see:
New Embryonic Stem Cell Technology May Redefine Science Debate - ROBBLOG
Embryonic Stem Cells from Adult Human Cells - Already? - ROBBLOG

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