Monday, December 08, 2008

Why have any restrictions in the first place?

Last Thursday, Amie Newman at the RH Reality Check blog outlined and commented on Rick Weiss’ piece at the Center for American Progress web site which calls for a new federal policy on the funding of human embryonic stem cell research.

Newman writes (my emphasis), “President-Elect Obama has an opportunity to cleanse the federal government of far too many ideological, non-scientifically based restrictions placed upon science by President Bush over the last eight years.”

She then lays out Weiss’ suggestions for restrictions and says, “All of these restrictions ensure that all ethical considerations are taken into account, in particular that embryos are not created solely for research purposes nor harmed or destroyed in the research process beyond what is allowed, under law, on fetuses in utero.”

Below are Weiss’ suggested “minimum” restrictions.
* The cells must have been derived from embryos produced for reproductive purposes.

* Those embryos must have been deemed in excess of medical need, were no longer being considered for transfer to a womb ,and were slated for destruction.

* The embryos were freely donated by both of the adults who contributed genetic material to create them, as evidenced by proper written informed consent.

* No financial inducements were offered to donors, and the donors expressed through an informed consent process their understanding that any resulting cell lines will be used for research and not for the development of therapeutic benefits for the donors.

* All federally funded research on human embryonic stem cells must be conducted under the review of a Stem Cell Research Oversight committee that adheres to the standards put forth in the guidelines of either the National Academies or the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

Now are any of these restrictions “scientifically based?” Or do they all, as Newman later remarks, ensure that “ethical considerations are taken into account?”

It seems ethical considerations that Newman agrees with are “scientifically based” while ethical considerations which she disagrees with, such as not funding research on human embryonic stem cell lines created after 2001, are “non-scientifically based.”

While Newman struggles to understand the difference between science and ethics, Weiss fails to provide reasons for why his suggested restrictions should be in place in the first place. Why only provide funding for research on cell lines from human embryos created for reproductive purposes? Why do the embryos have to be in excess of medical need and slated for destruction? Why shouldn’t the federal government provide funding for research on cell lines created from human embryos who were created with the intention of killing them for their cells?

His piece doesn’t even attempt to answer these questions. There seems to be no ethical anchor for his position. If killing human embryos for research isn’t ethically wrong, then why are stem cells derived from human embryos created solely for research not “ethically derived human embryonic stem cells?”

Further evidence of a lack of ethical anchor arises later in the piece when Weiss calls on Congress to pass legislation codifying the stem cell funding policy,
“The legislation should provide broad, principled, ethical standards so that the science can evolve in the direction that experimentation and evidence takes it—subject always to policy details promulgated by HHS/NIH.

The legislation should charge HHS with the duty to update at regular intervals, such as every two years, its regulations for embryonic stem cell research in light of new science.”
So ethical regulations should be updated based not on ethics but on science. In other words, Weiss wants the door left open for HHS to change his minimum requirements in case cell lines which don’t meet his requirements become scientifically useful or necessary.

Knowledgeable proponents of embryonic stem cell research know that freely donated “leftover” frozen human embryos from IVF treatments won’t create genetically diverse treatments for every American suffering from even one of the diseases they’ve promised a cure for. They know they’ll need “personalized” stem cell lines created from cloned human embryos created for non-reproductive purposes to avoid the problems with Graft vs. Host Disease.

So Weiss’ suggestions amount to this: Ethical restrictions with no ethical anchor which can be quickly removed if they get in the way of what scientists want.

Gee, thanks.

Related: Wesley Smith notes Weiss’ former job as a Washington Post reporter who often focused on stem cells and how seamless a transition it is for a reporter who shills for embryonic stem cell research to become a leftist think-tank employee who shills for embryonic stem cell research.

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