Not only does Obama’s embryonic stem cell order put science before ethics, but how far does it go?

At the end of this order we see:

Sec. 5.  Revocations.  (a)  The Presidential statement of August 9, 2001, limiting Federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells, shall have no further effect as a statement of governmental policy.

(b)  Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007, which supplements the August 9, 2001, statement on human embryonic stem cell research, is revoked.

Well what is in Executive Order 13435?  (HT: Stand to Reason)

The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall conduct and support research on the isolation, derivation, production, and testing of stem cells that are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding, or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus.

So basically rescinding this order seems to do a couple of things. 

1.  It appears to take away funding for research which has produced results, and focus it on stem cell therapy that has thus far not shown any results.  (HT: Melissa Clouthier)  Mike Hartwig of the Iowa Family Policy Center notes:

Not only is the President’s order on shaky moral ground, it’s not medically necessary. Recently, scientists have taken adult stem-cells and moved closer to a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, over 70 diseases like juvenile diabetes and heart disease have been treated through adult stem cells research. Comparatively, embryonic stem cell research shows no promise. Even Dr. James Thomson, who first grew human ESC (embryonic stem cells) in 1998, has pulled his resources from embryos and invested in induced pluripotent or iPS (adult stem cell) research. Adult stem cells are easier to access, cheaper to reproduce, and are proving to be far superior in providing the types of treatment embryonic stem cell proponents claim to hope for.

2.  This could still open up the possibility of going further than what ESCR proponents were asking for by opening up funding for creating embryos for stem cell research which Executive Order 13435 prohibited.  This could be very open ended as an article in the Washington Post points out:

President Obama’s open-ended order lifting limits on federal funding for stem cell research raises the prospect that taxpayer money could be used for a much broader, much more controversial array of studies than many scientists, officials and activists anticipated.

Although the decision to allow expanded funding had been long expected, many thought Obama would limit federally funded scientists to working with cell lines derived from embryos destined to be discarded at infertility clinics. Instead, he left that key issue open.

The task of deciding what kinds of studies will be supported now falls to the National Institutes of Health, which finds itself confronting far more extensive questions than its officials were contemplating. It has 120 days to do the job.

Among other things, officials will have to decide whether to endorse studies on cells obtained from much more contentious sources, such as embryos created specifically for research or by means of cloning techniques.

HT: Lisa Graas

So let me understand this correctly… we are leaving the decision for safeguards and limitations with the very people who were clamoring for the money?  Nice.

Also, what about this executive order is heroicChange we can believe in I guess.

22 comments
  1. I'm going to have to take issue with your first point here, Shane. Even if embryonic stem cells do not yield results that hardly means the research was a waste. Just the possibility of a breakthough is enough to justify federal research funding. Also, I highly doubt that money is being taken away adult stem cell research in favor of something pointless. Most scientists have great hopes for embryonic stem cells, which have different properties that adult stem cells do not have, to wit, they have a potential to grow into any organ. It is disingenuous to imply the scientific community does not have good reason to hope for great results from this research, and federal funding is a necessity to make great strides in this important field of research.
    It's ok to have a philosophical problem with it, but please don't perpetuate this misrepresentation of the hard science.

  2. I disagree strabo – even if ESCR did yield results it shouldn't have federal research funding. It diminishes the culture of life – when there are adult stem cells, umbilical cells, and just recently a breakthrough with skin cells ESCR is pointless to do. Perhaps they will fund adult stem cell research, but he just negated the funding with his executive order – perhaps he will issue a new one or it will get appropriated.

    It seems like he's leaving the ball in NIH's court.

    Why isn't there private funding for this? Because it hasn't yielded results. People will fund what works. There is also plenty of dissent within the scientific/medical community as well, but Obama doesn't seem to want to listen to those folks.

  3. I highly, highly disagree with him, but I don't want to demonize him either. He is a sinful human being just like you and I. We do need to advocate for a culture of life through a variety of means.

  4. Why isn't there private funding? There is plenty of private funding! It just can't compare to the deep pockets of the federal government. The private funding has been there all along, now with federal funding maybe the US will once again catch up with places like Singapore.

    I certainly respect your views as to abortion &c. but this is not the issue. The issue here is whether or not we can expect unique medical breakthroughs from embryonic stem cells, in ways that we cannot from adult and umbilical stem cells. The fact is that there is a difference, and success in these other fields of research does not diminish the potential for success with embryonic stem cells. It is an avenue worth exploring and it ought to be left up the research scientists which area to pursue.

    Cutting off medical research that can be used to save millions of lives hardly seems to contribute to this “culture of life” and neither does the death penalty for that matter. What does “culture of life” even mean anyway?

    Is this really about fears about reproductive cloning, designer babies and that sort of thing? Well, that may very well be on the way, Shane, and it may very well be unstoppable. But if that the concern, dragging your heels on medical research is not the answer!

  5. After 10 years it hasn't produced one therapy. Not one. No where. Since Singapore is so far ahead of us they must have some therapy in place right?

    Waste of money and unethical.

    I have no problem with ethical medical research – ESCR is not it. It is bad enough it is legal let alone taxpayers having to now foot the bill.

    Sorry I don't think ethical decisions should just be left up to scientists – not when they are using taxpayer money.

  6. More or less unethical than letting millions die? You say it hasn't generated any therapy, but that doesn't mean it won't some day. It's hardly surprising that no therapies have come from this promising field of research, since it hasn't been getting any federal funding until now. Singapore is very far ahead of us, but the amound of government money they have been putting into stem cell research has been small compared to what federal funds could have done, if Bush had allowed federal funding we might have already been very far ahead of them and have some of those therapies.

    If you really think it is unethical then campaign against it on those grounds to make it illegal. But since it is legal and ethical to experiment on these donated single cells that are otherwise going to be thrown in the garbage it is the ultimate insult to your so called culture of life to deprive millions of even the potential for cures or treatments for their disease. Is this “culture of life” is really just a culture of fear of scientific progress? You say yourself you don't trust scientists, well most research scientists are a whole lot more ethical than Republican politicians. I thank God that we finally have a president who has enough sense to put the federal funding where it belongs.

  7. Millions? How many embryos have been destroyed alreday? Also someone dying as a result of a disease is not the same as our intentionally ending life. You are simply justifying it based on the size of the life. Does size = value?

    You are making an assumption that we would be further than Singapore. We may be exactly where we are at now except with less funds.

    Regarding the donated cells, that is an entirely different matter one in which I'm not thrilled with. One I'm not in favor of invitro fertilization. I think it is playing God. Two, if people are donating for the purpose of ESCR then that is immoral. It is harvesting.

    I'm not saying I don't trust scientists, just that they shouldn't be the only voice in this. And I wouldn't go down the ethics road right now with what has been going on with Democrats and tax evasion, and ethics violations. But that is an entirely different blog post.

    Regarding federal funding – it should go into research that is noncontroversial and ethical. I don't know what the polls are – couldn't find a resent one, but in 2005 I know a Gallup poll showed support for public funding for ESCR was dropping with a slim majority funding it. Fine – let those people put their money where their mouth is and donate. Don't force those who find it immoral to fund it. Same goes with federal funding of abortion.

  8. I think you make a very good point here, it is basically as ethical as in vitro fertilization, or condom use for that matter. I appreciate and applaud your philosophical stance against these sort of things, but most people are going to disagree with you, especially when you weigh them against the good that can be done.

    It would be interesting if taxpayers could mark down what they do and don't want their money to fund,

    Some people think the war in Iraq is immoral, should they get the choice not to fund it with their tax dollars? Should we really leave it up to the public what to fund with their tax money? Isn't that why we have elected officials to act on our behalf?

    And so what if the research never goes anywhere? It is enough that we tried, and there is potential there to make it worth trying. And really the only people who disagree with that statement are the people who have a superstitious problem with the research itself.

  9. I knew you were going to bring up Iraq in a reply. Defense, military operations, national security are all constitutional functions of the Federal Government.

    Medical research is not… not I'm not so Libertarian that I'll say roll it all back, but there is a difference.

    I don't have a superstitious problem with the research. I have a moral/ethical problem with it. I believe that life begins at conception, and therefore can not support this legislation. Size doesn't determine value.

  10. Splitting an atom was suppossed to be a great LEAP for science, look how that all turned out! All knowledge comes from God but man is ill equipped to handle some aspects of it. It always turns out for the worse. God help us all!!!!

  11. Splitting the atom is the technology that is going to lead to fission power, which is the only real solution to the energy crisis. Nuclear weapons might be a significant threat but that is why we must work hard at things like anti-nuclear proliferation. Rather than flinching at scientific progress because it is scary we need to embrace it in order to reap the benefits and deal with the undesirable consequences. Electricity, refrigeration, gunpowder, and even agriculture are all leaps in science that have all had negative consequences but ultimately their benefits how proved to vastly outweigh any ethical dilemmas they present. As long as there are people who drag their heels on science out of fear of change, well, God help us all indeed.

  12. What is superstitious is imputing personhood to a single celled blastocyst simply because of an arcane theological argument. To someone who doesn't share your religion that is about as superstitious as a lucky rabbit's foot.

    The ethical dilemma is thus based only on a superstition. The stem cell isnt even an embryo, it's a part of an embryo. There are no people involved in this research. No subjects, only objects, like organs. Do you have an ethical problem with organ transplants too?

    This is one area where I couldn;t be more pleased to see that your side has lost the argument.

  13. Hey Strabo, I and others like me don't “fear change” that isn't what this is about.

    Not all change is good. Some change is very good. Also, the ends justify the means argument is very dangerous. What if some good results came from Nazi experimentation on the Jews? Would it then have been worthwhile? By the way that was done in the name of science.

  14. Hey I'm not trying to be arrogant, I'm a Christian too, you may be interested to know.

    I'm not trying to dismiss the importance of religious belief, but in out religiously plurarlistic democracy, which protects against the establishment of a state religion, you cannot simply base your arguments on religion and expect them to hold water.

    Yes, science does know best, and I haven't got a problem with saying that.

  15. I agree whole heartedly with this. It's precisely the reason we have human rights that trump even national sovereignty.

    But science itself is not the problem it is the application. Understanding the world better cannot be a bad thing. Making progress in medicine or physics cannot possibly be a bad thing.

    For example, medical research might yield a terrible biological weapon, but this possibility is not a reason to forgo medical research.

  16. Good idea, Shane! Here is a new thread.

    Ok, so you want to start quoting scripture, no problem. I direct your attention to Romans 13:6-7 which reads:
    “This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”

    We have a secular government, Shane, and you can't just say “my religion says X so it must be a law.”

    There are plenty of things that are immoral that are nonetheless permitted by law.

    Take idolatry, for example, or blasphemy, or working on the sabbath.

    All these things are an affront to God, so our religion says. But that is not a factor in the law.

    The same applies to embryonic stem cell research. Your interpretation of our religion might tell you that it is against the will of God, but this is a separate question from “Is ESCR ethically permissible.” Single cells aren't people in the legal sense, only in a very attentuated and debatable religious sense (I certainly don't see any definition of *personhood* in Psalm 139, maybe you would be so good as to point it out to me.) But even if God was perfectly explicit about His thoughts on ESCR it atill wouldn't be enough.

    You really need a secular rationale for opposing ESCR, otherwise you haven't got a basis in our constitutionally protected secular society. After all, one man's religion is another man's superstition.

  17. Romans 13 – which is why I'm not promoting not paying taxes.

    I am also not saying I want a theocracy.

    Regarding Psalm 139:13-16 – describes God's involvement in our creation and in particular v.16 tells of God know the number of our days.

    That is just one example. I write much more extensively on that here – http://caffeinatedthoughts.com/?p=960.

    I agree with you that in the public square to debate this we need to come with more than scripture references. I'm going to do a separate post to address that.

  18. Can't wait to read it, I always have fun discussing these issue with you Shane. We may disagree but I appreciate your open mind and willingness to debate civilly. As always, God bless!

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