Bioethics Discussion Blog: A Distortion and a “Disservice”?: Stem Cell Research and the Words of President Bush

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Distortion and a “Disservice”?: Stem Cell Research and the Words of President Bush


President Bush’s view on the use of embryos for stem cell research is well known including his limiting of federal funding for research using stem cells other than those already created at the time of his 2001 decision. At that time, it was accepted in the scientific community that the lines available were limiting for research and may have been unacceptably contaminated. It appeared that Bush’s decision represented the imposition on the American public of a moral and an obviously political decision rather than one based on science. However, Bush’s order stuck and attempts were started by states to fund their own stem cell research beyond those initial lines. A successful attempt occurred in California when the state’s voters approved a 3 billion dollar funding program for stem cell research. The funding organization known as The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) provides the following history: “CIRM was established in 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act. The statewide ballot measure, which provided $3 billion in funding for stem cell research at California universities and research institutions, was overwhelmingly approved by voters, and called for the establishment of an entity to make grants and provide loans for stem cell research, research facilities, and other vital research opportunities. To date, the CIRM governing board has approved 156 research grants totaling almost $260 million, making CIRM the largest source of funding for human embryonic stem cell research in the world. For more information, please visit www.cirm.ca.gov.”

However CIRM is unhappy with President Bush’s State of the Union Speech last night when he said:

“On matters of life and science, we must trust in the innovative spirit of medical researchers and empower them to discover new treatments while respecting moral boundaries. In November, we witnessed a landmark achievement when scientists discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life. So we are expanding funding for this type of ethical medical research. And as we explore promising avenues of research, we must also ensure that all life is treated with the dignity it deserves. So I call on the Congress to pass legislation that bans unethical practices such as the buying, selling, patenting, or cloning of human life.”


In response to the speech, CIRM promptly published the following statement:


CIRM DISAGREES WITH PRESIDENT BUSH’S MISLEADING POSITION
ON STEM CELL RESEARCH


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., January 28, 2008 –

The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) issued the following statement in response to President Bush’s State of the Union address:

Tonight, in his State of the Union address, President Bush distorted the scientific facts on stem cell research and did a disservice to the millions of patients suffering from chronic disease and injury for whom stem cell research holds great promise for future therapies and cures.

The stem cell research community is united in the position that human embryonic stem cells clearly remain the gold standard for research into pluripotent cells – cells that have the capacity to form all tissues of the body. Human embryonic stem cells are also the model against which all other potentially pluripotent cells need to be compared. The President’s proposals to further limit medical research in this area fail to take into account the intricate realities of the state of stem cell research. Indeed, the recent advances in which skin cells were induced to become pluripotent would not have been possible without research involving human embryonic stem cells. Furthermore, induced pluripotency is a technology still in its infancy. Though this technology offers great hope and promise, it will not, for the foreseeable future, be suitable for clinical studies in humans because of safety concerns.

Therefore it is critical that all avenues of stem cell research be aggressively advanced. To do otherwise would increase the already devastating restrictions that have burdened Federal support of stem cell research and patients who are depending upon it. This Administration’s position on stem cell research has already cost years in lost research productivity. Further restrictions would result in more lost time in developing stem cell based therapies and cures that hold great promise to alleviate suffering for the most destructive and costly diseases such as spinal injury, loss of sight, heart muscle injury, Parkinson’s Disease, ALS and diabetes.

CIRM supports and applauds any programs the White House advances that accelerate NIH funding for research on induced pluripotency. There is much work to be done on all cell types, including this highly promising but early stage technology. CIRM looks forward to engaging with NIH and other state and federal organizations in accelerating the progress of stem cell therapies to the clinic.

CIRM also strongly opposes reproductive cloning.

Melissa King
California Institute for Regenerative Medicine
210 King Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
Desk: 415-396-9119
FAX: 415-396-9141
www.cirm.ca.gov


I wonder how my visitors look at the embryonic stem cell controversy and whether, for example, President Bush is still not telling the American people the realistic scientific facts, either in 2001 or 2008. Or what do you think about CIRM’s argument regarding distortion and “disservice” as a fair judgment of President Bush’s communication to his fellow citizens? ..Maurice.

Graphic: Photograph of 8 cell human embryo (from Wikipedia).

ADDENDUM (2-2-2008): To get a better understanding of the technology and biology behind embryonic cloned cell and the reprogrammed skin cell (also called iPS "induced pluripotent stem" cell) so that one can intellectually tackle the differing expressed moral views on these two approaches toward therapeutic goals, please read the following contrasting articles published in the Bioethics Forum: Embryonic Ethics and Getting Clear on the Ethics of iPS Cells. Our President has failed to explain to us why he finds, based on the scientific differences and similarities, iPS as morally acceptable compared with the use of embryonic stem cells.

Both articles come to the conclusion that further research and development using embryonic stem cells is necessary in spite of current skin cell reprogramming effort.

10 Comments:

At Wednesday, January 30, 2008 6:48:00 AM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

Maurice - First, just where in Bush's very brief remarks about stem cell research does he "distort the scientific facts" as charged by the CIRM statement? Who's doing the distorting here?

Even though I am personally in favor of aggressively pursuing embryonic stem cell research, I recognize that a significant proportion of my fellow citizens view it as immoral. And as someone who holds to the old-fashioned liberal principle of freedom of conscience, I don't think those people should have to support (through their tax contributions) research that they find morally objectionable. Of course, in the eyes of CIRM, old-fashioned liberal principles might be just a nuisance.

 
At Wednesday, January 30, 2008 8:34:00 AM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Bob, I agree with your questioning Bush's State of the Union remarks regarding stem cells. Yesterday, I compared the President's speech on an internet video replay with the words written in the document published by the White House. They were identical except for Bush starting out with "On matters of life and science" whereas the White House version was "science and life". I suspect CIRM would have appreciated the President to be a bit more open and instead of simply stating "This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life", something to the effect like "scientists tell me it was embryonic stem cell research that had led to skin cell results and that support of further embryonic stem cell research is needed to extend the breakthrough."
Bush has left the public with his usual "mission accomplished" attitude which realistically has not happened. As I had written, there was a similar lack of complete disclosure in 2001: At that time, it was accepted in the scientific community that the lines available were limiting for research and may have been unacceptably contaminated. But Bush did not include that in his talk to the American people.

Obviously CIRM has an agenda as President Bush has his. But which agenda is the most scientifically valid and the basis for the most benefit for humanity? That is the issue. ..Maurice.

 
At Wednesday, January 30, 2008 8:55:00 AM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

Maurice - I wonder if it makes any sense at all to speak of a moral or political agenda as "scientifically valid." I know that there's a temptation for those of us who favor embryonic stem cell research to claim that we have science on our side. But that's rhetorical nonsense, and the temptation should be resisted.

 
At Wednesday, January 30, 2008 9:58:00 AM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Bob, I agree that if this was all simply a purely philosophical discussion about the merits or the wrongs of discarding living embryos or using these embryos for purposes other than allowing them to develop into children then science might not be an essential factor in the discussion. If it was simply a political discussion on what is the best view to hold and how to express it to the public in order to get the most public acceptance and votes, science again might not be essential. But if the issue was not simply philosophical nor political but the basis for research to find a cure for the currently incurable diseases (and not reproductive cloning, which is currently what embryonic stem cell research is all about, then it is science that must be considered, understood and explained by and to the public. ..Maurice.

 
At Wednesday, January 30, 2008 10:28:00 AM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

Maurice - Of course we want the public to have a "valid" understanding of the relevant science. That's a world apart from saying that a particular agenda is scientifically valid.

I also note that while I want people to derive whatever benefit they can from advances in the science of embryonic stem cells, I'm not willing to run rough shod over the principle of freedom of conscience in order to do so.

 
At Wednesday, January 30, 2008 1:21:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Just to continue the discussion a bit more.. Bob, you mention "freedom of conscience" presumably it is also related to the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. In other words, should people who find the use of discarded embryos in research is immoral shouldn't have their taxes pay for this unconsciable research behavior and that is why Bush has been against federal funding? If that is the case, and as with research into cure of incurable diseases lives are at stake, why is it that those citizen have found continued support of the war in Iraq, also with lives at stake and also immoral and unconsciable, can't deny our tax dollars from the war funding? ..Maurice.

 
At Wednesday, January 30, 2008 1:58:00 PM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

Maurice - First, I don't claim to know what Bush's reasons are for opposing research using human embryos. But as a political cynic, I'll guess that he believes it enhances his power.

Second, your blog isn't the place to rehearse several centuries worth of moral and political debates relevant to the role of freedom of conscience in a liberal society. But just to indicate the "lay of the land"...

Freedom of conscience usually is not thought to be absolute. The "standard" liberal position is that freedom of conscience can be trumped when it's "necessary for the maintenance of a well-ordered society." Among the things that have been considered necessary for a well-ordered society are the ability to wage war, an organized system to enforce the laws of the land, infrastructure for transportation, education and public health, etc. While I might not agree with some of these "exceptions" to freedom of conscience, I at least recognize that there are plausible arguments for them, which reasonable people could find persuasive. I've not seen any plausible arguments to the effect that society will suffer irreparable harm if embryonic stem cell research has to rely on voluntary funding mechanisms, whether these are for-profit or non-profit in nature. And, if that's an accurate assessment, then it would be wrong, or at least illiberal, to compel support for this research through taxation.

At least that's how it looks to me.

 
At Wednesday, January 30, 2008 2:29:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Bob, I understand everything that you wrote.. but wouldn't it be wonderful (my blog and me would go down in the history of mankind) if all the moral and political debates regarding all the issues involved in the "freedom of conscience" could be solved and ended right here on the "Bioethics Discussion Blog"? But I think for that, I will need to start a different thread. Bob, thanks for your participation here. ..Maurice.

 
At Wednesday, January 30, 2008 3:06:00 PM, Blogger MY OWN WOMAN... said...

I'd like to throw just one thing in here in regards to embryonic stem cell research. If we throw these stem cells away, they will never become life in any way, shape or form; if we use them for research and then possibly to help cure diseases then they will have helped people to live a productive life.

So my question is this: Do we throw the stem cells away and destroy all hopes of life, or do we allow stem cell research in hopes to save lives?

For so long this has been a moral issue that hinges on facts that if we use embronic stem cells to provide answers to disease we have killed the right for these embroys to survive. They aren't surviving. The are being tossed in the garbage.

Give those who are alive and suffering a chance to live; then it truly becomes a gift of life.

 
At Wednesday, January 30, 2008 6:17:00 PM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

MY OWN WOMAN - I don't disagree with any of the points you make here. I'm opposed to any efforts to ban embryonic stem cell research by preventing those who "own" embryos from making them available to researchers, or to restrict the freedom of inquiry of those researchers. Since I'm also opposed to compelling support for this research from those who have moral objections to the destruction of embryos, I'm left advocating for voluntary support of what I view as a very promising field of research. Freedom of conscience; freedom of inquiry; freedom of association; these freedoms can carry us quite far if we will only respect them.

 

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