March 9, 2009

The coming memorandum

The Washington Post says that Obama Aims to Shield Science from Politics.  The article makes the claim that President Bush's restriction of federal dollars for embryonic stem cell research was political.  This ignores that fact that President Clinton installed an outright ban on embryonic stem cell research in the United States while President Bush not only allowed the research, but funded it for the first time on a limited set of stem cell lines.  If President Bush was to the Left of President Clinton on this, I think it's a good indication that both those Presidents' decisions were not political, but moral.

"We view what happened with stem cell research in the last administration as one manifestation of failure to think carefully about how federal support of science and the use of scientific advice occurs," [Harold] Varmus said. "This is consistent with the president's determination to use sound scientific practice, responsible practice of science and evidence, instead of dogma in developing federal policy."

This reads as if the Administration sees no moral issues in science, though I'm sure they must.  Dogma is religious doctrine -- so does Obama really feel there is no moral issues to be taken into account when it comes to decisions in science?  I wonder how he feels about the study on Tuskegee Airmen?  If that study was a bad scientific decision, then explain why without using morality in the discussion.  (Nice S.A.T. essay question, don't you think?)

I watched a few minutes of discussion on this on CNN this morning.  The Obama side of the argument goes like this:  There are over 600,000 frozen embryos in the US alone, and they will almost certainly be destroyed and never be implanted in a womb.  Why destroy these embryos for nothing when they can be used to further scientific study on cures for diseases like spinal injuries, diabetes and Parkinson's?  What a waste.

This, of course, comes down to how you feel about embryos.  If you substitute, say, "vegetative state people" for "frozen embryos" -- or perhaps "death row inmates" -- do we suddenly think it's OK to start removing their organs since they aren't going to be using them for much longer, or as fully as someone else might?  Both Presidents Clinton and Bush felt tax dollars shouldn't be used to fund research that is morally repugnant to large portions of the taxpayers who would be funding it.

There's a different cowboy in town now.

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