Wonky Muse
Wonky Muse

August 17, 2004

Freedom of Inquiry

When Laura Bush--whose father died of Alzheimer's disease--defended her husband's policy on stem cell research, Michael Kinsley of the Los Angeles Times wrote an excellent response which perfectly summed up my opinion about the issue.

On her statement that her husband "is the only president to ever authorize federal funding for embryonic stem cell research", Kinsley wrote:

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 W. 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 to ever authorize federal rules against stem-cell research.

On her statement that Bush "has provided a boost to research in a very promising new field, while recognizing that this is an issue with moral implications that must not be treated lightly", Kinsley responded:

The purpose of Bush's stem-cell policy is to discourage medical research using embryos. Bush supposedly thinks that these clumps of a few dozen cells are every bit as human as the people who will suffer and/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 the dots are human too.

And on her statement that "embryonic stem cell research is very preliminary right now, and the implication that cures for Alzheimer's are around the corner is just not right, and it's really not fair to the people who are watching a loved one suffer with this disease", Kinsley retorted:

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. While your husband and John Kerry make a major issue out of who is more optimistic, it is inspiring to have a first lady with the courage to say, Let's be pessimistic! Optimism is unfair!

I find the idea of not pursuing research because "we don't know if [it] will provide cures" highly disingenuous. Isn't that what research is all about, to explore the possibilities? If we only pursue research based on the certainty of its results, we wouldn't have the breakthroughs in science and technology that we have today.

Embryonic stem cell research has the potential to save lives. That alone should be incentive for us to proceed. An Administration that plays politics with this issue at our expense should be replaced with one that will support it.

[For more information on stem cell research, I recommend the articles in Harvard Magazine and Time (subscription required) and the web site of the National Institute of Health (NIH).]

posted at 8:11 PM by Wonky Muse

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"Sapere Aude."
(Dare to Know)
-- Epistularum Liber Primus, Horace

Wonk (noun): def. A political nerd. Know spelled backwards.

Wonky Muse is the other Filipino American female political blogger. The sane, liberal one.


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