Killing the weak to heal the sick

I’d heard just about enough of the blather about a supposed “ban” on stem cell research, but John Edwards’ speech about helping the crippled to walk through embryo stem cell research pushed me over the edge.
In 2002 I published a Note (the term for an article by a law student … mine’s available below) on federal funding of human embryo stem cell research in Health Matrix, the health law journal at Case Western Reserve University. My article built on the reasoning of Scott Klusendorf, the most effective pro-life debater I know.
In that article I picked through peer-reviewed studies and the history of stem cell research, analyzed the state of applicable medical research law, and applied scientific and philosophical considerations to the debate. I conclusively demonstrated that federally funded human embryonic stem cell research is illegal, immoral, and unnecessary. To my knowledge, nothing significant has changed. There are no legal restrictions on privately funded stem cell research on human embryos, repugnant though it is.
I expect reporters and even editors to fall for hype now and then, but politicians running for president have science advisors whose job it is to keep their guy from saying stupid and dishonest things. The facts are not in doubt:

  1. There is no ban on stem cell research. The only restriction is on federal funding of research on stem cells derived from embryos destroyed after August 9, 2001.
  2. Embryonic stem cell research derived from destroyed embryos is morally repugnant, especially since those cells are obtainable from umbilical cords and placentas.
  3. Embryonic stem cells hold less scientific promise than stem cells from adult sources.

John Kerry and John Edwards need to fire their advisors and apologize for a shameless lie that cruelly gives false hope to people with spinal cord injuries.
Here’s a PDF version of my Note, published in 2002.

Are We Killing The Weak To Heal The Sick?: Federally Funded Embryonic Stem Cell Research

More coverage:
Redstate (read the comments; they’re great)
Wizblog (a fellow Clevelander)
TigerHawk
Considerettes
Truth, Lies & Common Sense
Just One Minute
Wes Roth
Confessions Of A Political Junkie
Jay Reding
The Corpus Callosum (opposing view)
Evangelical Outpost
Citizen Z
Daniel W. Casey
Power Line
Polipundit
Sean Gleeson
bLogicus
Back of the Envelope
Drink This …

UPDATE (9:33 PM): Arthur Chrenkoff sees a pattern of exploitation in the Kerry/Edwards campaign’s use of the handicapped:

John Edwards is engaging in cynical political game at the expense of the sick and the suffering. Not satisfied with using triple amputees to deliver letters for the Kerry campaign, the Dems are now using the chronically ill and the incapacitated to whack Bush over the head: you see, Bush is mean, because he provokes the terrorists, he makes your gas more expensive, and he sends your jobs overseas. He’s so mean, in fact, that he will keep the sick sick for the sake of his extremist moral agenda.

And I do mean “use” literally and pejoratively.

UPDATE (10:04 PM): This post just merged at high speed into today’s Beltway Traffic Jam.

UPDATE (10:17 PM): Paul at Wizbang is as pithy as you can hope to be.

UPDATE (11:59 PM): Before you revel in embryo stem cell dreams, consider the proven nightmares.

16 comments

  1. Wizblog

    Miracle Worker

    Apparently there is absolutely nothing that is beneath the dignity of the Kerry campaign… …not the vicious lie that one million black Florida voters had their votes stolen in 2000… …not the baseless lie that the Bush administration plans to…

  2. Chet

    Embryonic stem cells hold less scientific promise than stem cells from adult sources.
    I’m not sure why you conclude this or who has misled you, but this simply isn’t true.
    Adult stem cells cannot be coerced into forming as many different tissue types as embryonic stem cells; predictably, adult stem cells generally can only be coerced into forming the sort of cells that they naturally develop into in the body – that’s things like blood cells and immune cells. Embryonic cells are the precursor to all body tissues.
    New research shows also that embryonic stem cells release unique regenerative molecules called “rescue factors.” Presumably, these factors could be synthesized without the destruction of embryos, but the lack of federal funding, which usually constitues the bulk of research money, won’t make that happen any sooner.
    Embryonic stem cell research derived from destroyed embryos is morally repugnant
    I disagree. I find nothing repugnant about destroying cells that will never become human beings; just as there’s nothing repugnant about destroying sperm that will never become human beings, or destroying cheek scrapings that will never become human beings.
    There’s no “false hope” in the promise of stem cells to repair neurological damage, as this has already happened in mice. These technologies have true promise for helping people with otherwise unrepairable damage. The only false hope is the hope that this research will proceed in this country under the Bush administration. With a ban on federal funding, that’s simply not going to happen.

  3. Chet

    He’s so mean, in fact, that he will keep the sick sick for the sake of his extremist moral agenda.
    What about that statement isn’t a priori true?
    It’s Bush’s moral agenda that led him to institute his restrictions on federal funding; those restrictions are preventing or hindering research on technologies with proven promise to remedy certain currently incurable conditions. Bush thinks protecting cells that will never be human is somehow more important than curing sick humans. I don’t see how that can be disputed.
    Bush holds science secondary to his minority Christian view. Why would anyone come to the conclusion that that’s a good thing?

  4. Puddle Pirate

    I’m not sure why you conclude [embryonic stem cells hold less scientific promise] or who has misled you, but this simply isn’t true.
    It’s called primary research. I went and read the studies myself, instead of relying on politicians to tell me what to believe. Download my article above and check pages 535-541 and Appendix B at page 552. It’s exhaustively footnoted.
    Adult stem cells cannot be coerced into forming as many different tissue types as embryonic stem cells; predictably, adult stem cells generally can only be coerced into forming the sort of cells that they naturally develop into in the body — that’s things like blood cells and immune cells.
    Neither can embryonic stem cells do what you suggest. Download my article above and read pages 507-509 (the section titled “Stem Cells 101”).
    All scientists conducting embryonic stem cell research harvest them at the blastocyst stage, where the unborn child consists of a ball of 8 or 16 cells (often misleadingly called a “pre-embryo”). At this point the cells are pluripotent, that is, capable of developing into many (but not all) kinds of tissue.
    What you’re describing are totipotent cells, which can differentiate into all types of cells. The unborn child’s cells are totipotent only until 4 days post-conception. Nobody harvests them that early.

  5. Puddle Pirate

    I find nothing repugnant about destroying cells that will never become human beings; just as there’s nothing repugnant about destroying sperm that will never become human beings, or destroying cheek scrapings that will never become human beings.
    Download my article above and read pages 521-524 and 528-535, where I address your concerns at length. These pages deal with the personhood of the unborn, and you won’t find a single religious argument anywhere. I look forward to hearing your reactions.
    There’s no “false hope” in the promise of stem cells to repair neurological damage, as this has already happened in mice. These technologies have true promise for helping people with otherwise unrepairable damage.
    Sorry to burst your bubble, Chet.

  6. Chet

    It’s called primary research. I went and read the studies myself
    As have I. A 1-second search of abstracts on PubMed.org displays over 800 articles, the vast majority asserting the effectiveness of embryonic stem cells in hundreds of experiments.
    Of course, if you cherry-pick your research, you can make it say anything you like. Taken in its entirety, however, the body of research on embryonic stem cells is incredibly positive.
    Download my article above and read pages 521-524 and 528-535, where I address your concerns at length.
    So, your argument is that, since things like corporations and ships can have “personhood”, embryos can, too?
    Of course they can be made “persons”, but are they human beings? No reasonable person would conclude they are; no honest person would conclude they ever will be.
    Ships and corporations may have “personhood”, but you commit equivocation with the suggestion that that confers the right to life. Ships and corporations may be disassembled and destroyed without charges of murder; so too may embryos that will never ever be human beings but carry the almost meaningless mantle of “personhood.”

  7. Chet

    You should read the paper by Fraidenraich, et al. in the lastest issue of Science, by the way. Fascinating stuff. Embryonic stem cells repaired heart tissues without actually becoming heart tissue themselves.
    It may be that we don’t need the cells themselves for many applications; their unique “rescue factors” may suffice. Very exciting!

  8. Drink this...

    Miracles temerariously promised by this…

    Shameless. Today John Edwards exploited freshly heart-wounded superhero fans everywhere and preyed on the hopes of desperate families when he created an embryo he can’t deliver with this… ‘We will stop juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and …

  9. Puddle Pirate

    I’ll dig up that paper soon and read it. The “rescue factors” interest me. Thanks for the tip, Chet.
    Meanwhile, James Lileks offers some funny and spot-on observations about Senator Edwards’ “be healed” speech:

    Of course it�s true in the sense that it�s sort of true, in the sense that it�s not entirely false, in the sense that it could possibly happen, in the sense that it probably won�t, which he knows. It plays well with those who think that the only way we can cure snapped spines is by applying those magical Federal Dollars, which are unlike any currency on earth � they make things more efficient, they turn negative lab results into positive ones, and they make everyone work faster. Wonderful things, those Federal Dollars. Rub enough on an injured spine and the patient actually feels sensation in his pinky toe.
    This is why private donations simply won�t work, and why Sen. Edwards hasn�t let the charge for a massive private-fundraising effort. There�s simply no point. Anyway, we�re all screwed, because Bush had all the top doctors shot or shipped to Gitmo, and all the embryonic cells dressed up in pink and blue bonnets with tiny microscopic rattles, because he thinks they�re human for some peculiar reason. Life does not begin at conception; life does not begin at birth. Life begins the moment you�re dropped off at day-care or the day you walk through the doors of a public school. Prior to that, you�re just a lump of wet clay shaped by the rough and ignorant hands of your hapless parents.

    Comments, Chet?

  10. Chet

    Thanks for the tip, Chet.
    No prob. I’m interested in science, not partisan squabbles that gets us nowhere. If you search on PubMed.org you can get that article and many more, though if you’re not with a university you’ll probably have to pay somebody. You can usually get the abstract for free, though.
    Comments, Chet?
    Well, as always, Lileks shows that no situation is too nuanced or complicated for him to twist for a few cheap laughs.
    Where does he think all this private research is going to occur? The best medical research labs are in public universities; they have a very hard time attracting private funding because private companies want assurances they can maintain copyrights/patents on discoveries, which goes against the charters of most universities.
    It’s not like we’re talking about a couple of bucks, here. Federal research money fuels the research industry – its a source that private donations/funding simply can’t or won’t match.

  11. Puddle Pirate

    The best medical research labs are in public universities; they have a very hard time attracting private funding because private companies want assurances they can maintain copyrights/patents on discoveries, which goes against the charters of most universities.
    Please provide links or documentation.
    It’s not like we’re talking about a couple of bucks, here. Federal research money fuels the research industry – its a source that private donations/funding simply can’t or won’t match.
    Again … documentation, please. Give us actual numbers, not just potential expenditures (since we all agree that Uncle Sam can outspend anybody, but private entities can still kick butt). I’d like to see return on investment figures, both for the private sector and for the public sector. Do you have more than your hunches/opinions to go on here? Sheer spending power is not the key metric.

  12. Chet

    Well, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has this to say:

    To realize the potential health benefits of stem cell technology will require a large and sustained investment in research. The federal government is the only realistic source for such an infusion of funds. For those who are challenged daily by serious diseases that could in the future be relieved by therapies gained through stem cell research, public funding holds the greatest promise for sooner rather than later research results that can be transferred from the bench to the bedside. Without the stimulus of public funding, new treatments could be substantially delayed.
    The commitment of federal funds also offers a basis for public review, approval, and monitoring through well established oversight mechanisms that will promote the public�s interest in ensuring that stem cell research is conducted in a way that is both scientifically rigorous and ethically proper. Additionally, public funding can contribute to sound social policy by increasing the probability that the results of stem cell research will reflect broad social priorities that are unlikely to inform research in the private sector.

    I think it goes without saying that corporate funding is unlikely to occur except in a patentable context; moreover, that corporate funding is unlikely to persist if results are not immediately forthcoming, as the examples you provided earlier demonstrate.
    I would think people like you would welcome greater public funding of embryonic stem cell research; the research is going to happen anyway, so it might as well happen under a process of public review, don’t you think? Wouldn’t that be the best way to preserve the dignity or whatever of the cells you’re so concerned about?
    I’d like to see return on investment figures, both for the private sector and for the public sector.
    That’s a fairly unbalanced question; the basic research that constitutes the bulk of research in academic settings rarely leads directly to the business investitures or monetary returns associated with the applied research you’re probably thinking of. In 1999, 50% of the nation’s research – basic and applied – was performed in academic settings, whereas only about 30% of that research occured in industry. These figures are taken from the National Science Foundation’s 1999 survey of the nation’s R&D production, National Patterns of R&D Resources. In terms of funding, in 1999, government funding accounted for at least 65% of academic research, whereas industry funding accounted for less than 7%.
    If you believe that private funding is going to be able to fully support embryonic stem cell research, in direct contradiction to the statements of science organizations like the AAAS, then I guess I’d like to see those numbers. Who are these ready, consistent sources of research money you’re so sure are willing to step in, if they were only asked?

  13. Puddle Pirate

    I would think people like you would welcome greater public funding of embryonic stem cell research; the research is going to happen anyway, so it might as well happen under a process of public review, don’t you think? Wouldn’t that be the best way to preserve the dignity or whatever of the cells you’re so concerned about?
    You miss the point. From my point of view, you’re asking: “I would think people like you would welcome greater public funding of research that kills people; the research is going to happen anyway, so it might as well happen under a process of public review, don’t you think? Wouldn’t that be the best way to preserve the dignity or whatever of the people you’re so concerned about?”
    There’s no acceptable way to conduct research that kills people. They aren’t just cells. They’re very young, very vulnerable people that are being torn apart to harvest their cells. They don’t look like you and me, but that doesn’t change what they are: people.
    If you believe that private funding is going to be able to fully support embryonic stem cell research, in direct contradiction to the statements of science organizations like the AAAS, then I guess I’d like to see those numbers. Who are these ready, consistent sources of research money you’re so sure are willing to step in, if they were only asked?
    I suspect that there isn’t much lure for private industry at all, which supports my point of view. Private industry isn’t stepping forward to invest in this research precisely because there isn’t much promise in ESCR. If there were, Merck and Pfizer and the rest would be all over this. The basic research has been done, and ESCR is a dry well. The action’s all in adult stem cells.
    You seem to be advocating that we throw tax dollars down an unpromising hole, simply because the pot of available dollars is bigger and because the benevolent bureaucracy (ha!) can oversee things in a way that favors your big-government liberal mindset.
    All personhood arguments aside, I’m not ready to throw good money after bad.

  14. Chet

    They don’t look like you and me, but that doesn’t change what they are: people.
    So, now we’re at the point where you ignore evidence and just repeat yourself? I’m not interested in that.
    Private industry isn’t stepping forward to invest in this research precisely because there isn’t much promise in ESCR.
    Of course, every reputable science organization disagrees, as does the avaliable research.
    If there were, Merck and Pfizer and the rest would be all over this.
    They make drugs, though. We’re not talking about drugs.
    At any rate, pharmaceutical compaines have a history of ignoring promising research; promise and profit are not the same thing to them. Case in point – Endostatin. The fact that the big pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested in this means nothing.
    You seem to be advocating that we throw tax dollars down an unpromising hole
    I’ve substantiated their promise.
    because the benevolent bureaucracy (ha!) can oversee things in a way that favors your big-government liberal mindset.
    I’m sorry, when was it established that I was a liberal? I’m for smaller goverment and less taxes. I guess name-calling is your last resort. Too bad.

  15. Brain Shavings

    Federally funded embryo destruction begins again

    Thanks to today’s ruling in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, your tax dollars will now fund the destruction of unborn children. My stance on this has been unequivocal. It’s wrong to heal the sick…