Spinal Confusion

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

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Stem Cell 'Alternatives' Raise the Debate

(An excellent editorial appeared at Wired News today that discusses this in more depth. I will try to avoid duplicating too many points.)

Noted Professors Paul Berg, George Q. Daley, and Lawrence S.B. Goldstein penned an Opinion piece for the Washington Post entitled Stem Cell 'Alternatives' Fog the Debate, in which they argue that the Senate is facing a decision pitting themselves against the will of the House and delaying "vital medical research." Unfortunately, the basis of their argument is a bit misplaced, as the bill they are supporting (H.R. 810/S. 471) has effectively been declared dead-on-arrival by President Bush. Without a veto-proof margin in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, any Senate action on the bill will be largely symbolic and ineffective.

Berg, et. al continue on to discuss the 'Alternatives' Bill (H.R. 3144) proposed by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R - MD) and its efforts to divert support away from H.R. 810 "by promoting dubious approaches to obtaining stem cells that even their supporters concede are scientifically and ethically problematic." While three of the four suggested approaches are ethically dubious, the fourth approach (somatic cell reprogramming, a.k.a. transdifferentiation, of which dedifferentiation is a specific type) presents no ethical concerns, provided you outlaw the creation of an embryo through its use.

The trio then say "Research on these proposed alternatives is already legal and can be funded by existing mechanisms. ... Interested scientists need only write a grant proposal and pass the scientific peer review process for technical merit to secure funding for the research." While this is true, this argument against the need for H.R. 3144 is—to borrow a term—dubious, as bills have long been used to allocate funding for and attract scientists to emerging areas of research.

Professors, Researchers, Scientists, and Advocates who support H.R. 810 should not be afraid of also supporting H.R. 3144. The debate over when life begins (embryonic stem cell opponents oppose the research because they believe an embryo is a life; proponents don't) is an ideological one that has long divided the country, and it will not stop because of stem cell research. H.R. 3144 offers a chance to remove ideology from the debate and satisfy both sides.

If Roe vs. Wade participants were given the opportunity to remove ideology, they would have taken it. We are being given that opportunity with H.R. 3144 and we should take it, not waste it.

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At July 28, 2005 1:31 PM, Blogger jordan said...

I'm not sure what you mean by
If Roe vs. Wade participants were given the opportunity to remove ideology, they would have taken it. -
but I agree that the proposals are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I would prefer only HR 3144 to be passed and I will continue to fight against 810 on grounds that any destruction of human life from conception on is immoral. Does that make me ideologically driven?

At July 29, 2005 11:00 AM, Blogger Steven said...


It is fine to be ideologically driven.

By removing the ideology from the debate, I mean the ideology surrounding abortion. Suppose there was an option that gave both sides what they want: end the pregnancy without, by anyone's definition, killing a baby. It's not possible, but if it were, I think they would have grabbed onto it.

Likewise, H.R. 3144 gives both sides what they want: a way of obtaining embryonic stem cells that scientists can work with without creating or destroying an embryo. The difference between this and the imagined Roe vs. Wade scenario above is that H.R. 3144 is realistically possible.

Thanks for supporting H.R. 3144.


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