Spinal Confusion

...an attempt to clarify confusing and innacurate information in science articles

Friday, July 29, 2005

Frist Supports ESC Research; Bush Takes One for the Team

Senator Bill Frist has now come out in support of embryonic stem cell research. Is he telling the truth?

Frist needs this to appeal to the Centrists, and Bush's guaranteed veto allows him to take this stand on the issue. Bush maintains his appeal with the Right, Frist gains approval from the Centrists, Bush campaigns for Frist in 2008 (if he gets the nod, which is likely) and hands the Right to Frist. This is purely political.

From the New York Times:

But, Mr. Frist says the Castle bill has shortcomings. He says it "lacks a strong ethical and scientific oversight mechanism," does not prohibit financial incentives between fertility clinics and patients, and does not specify whether the patients or the clinic staff have a say over whether embryos are discarded. He also says the bill "would constrain the ability of policy makers to make adjustments in the future."
This is inaccurate. The Senate companion bill (S. 471) to Castle's bill (H.R. 810) explicitly states under Section 498D:

`(1) The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.
`(2) Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded.
`(3) The individuals seeking fertility treatment donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving any financial or other inducements to make the donation.
These subsections address both of the issues raised by Frist: it prohibits patients from being financially compensated for donating the embryos and it states that the decision is made, with informed consent, by the "individuals seeking fertility treatment".

If Republicans can maintain their hold through the 2008 elections, embryonic stem cell research will still not be allowed and Frist can set forth an "ethical" ESC policy that pacifies all sides. (Assuming we don't know how to reprogram somatic cells into ESCs by then.)

Update: From the Congressional Record (PDF):

Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, I very much appreciate the question. It gives me the opportunity to show the work and the challenge it is to address an issue that strikes at the science and ethical concerns.

My approach has been to include what I think the Senator from Iowa wants, and that is a clean up-or-down-vote on this bill. I have real concerns with how that bill is written, and I will give several examples of why it bothers me a bit the way it is written and passing as a clean bill. But I am willing to do that if I can take into consideration the moral concerns and scientific concerns of others in this body and give them the same opportunity that the Senator from Iowa is asking for, and, thus, put together a group, a defined group, but not an unlimited group--we will be voting up or down on all sorts of votes--but see where everybody is on alternative ways: You do not have to destroy embryos to get the same cells you get from embryos, the cord blood bill, H.R. 810, and the cloning bill. It is a separate issue but involves the creation of embryos and ultimately the destruction of embryos.

That is what we are talking about. That is my attempt. It is going to take a while on the floor of the Senate because of the fact of it not having gone through the committee process and the fact everybody does stand in little different positions, from an ethical standpoint, on any of the bills.

On H.R. 810, the consent process is inadequate, from my standpoint. There is not an ideal ethical construct. It says informed consent, but it does not specifically talk about the potential for financial incentives between, say, a physician and an in vitro fertilization clinic. That is not addressed specifically in the bill. Instead of voting up or down, I would like to at least discuss those issues.

Another issue--there is informed consent and the financial incentives--would be if we pass it, it is passed forever; there is no opportunity to come back and look at it on a periodic basis, say, every 4 or 5 years.

I mention those concerns because I am willing to step back and give a clean vote on that if we can take into consideration other people's issues or their particular bills. I am a little surprised my colleagues have not taken me up on that opportunity, but since they have not, we will have to come back and figure the best way to address it when we get back after the recess.