Thursday, August 04, 2005

Stem Cells, Senator Frist, and President Bush: A Thoughtful Perspective

Earlier today I read George Will's op-ed piece on Senator Frist and stem cells. I do not pretend to have a great depth of knowledge about this area, but I did find the Will op-ed persuasive. I also believe Bill Frist is a thoughtful, earnest public servant who over his time in the Senate has earned the benefit of my doubts. Put me down as cautiously supportive of the Frist position.

Lo and behold, none other than Ralph Kostant also read Will's piece and has taken a similar, if more robust, supportive position. Ralph offers a handy summary, along with a question for my readers and me:

George Will points out that Senator Bill Frist's current views are not a flip-flop, but rather reflect his expressed position on stem-cell research of four years ago. While Senator Frist supported the President's August 2001 limitation on Federal support of embryonic stem-cell research, to 78 existing lines, his support was based on the assumption that those lines provided an adequate supply of embryonic stem cells for ongoing research. Now that it is known that only 22 of those lines remain, of uncertain and declining quality, Senator Frist has reasserted his original position--that research should be permitted on frozen embryos that were created in vitro for fertilization treatment, are no longer wanted by the couples for whom they were created, and would otherwise be destroyed. Senator Frist, like the President, remains steadfastly opposed to the creation of embryos for stem-cell research. In the opinion of George Will, Senator Frist's position is only mildly divergent from that of President Bush. Do the Hedgehog and its readers concur? (In the interest of full and fair disclosure, let me add that I concur in the position of Senator Frist, which is also the stated position of leading Orthodox Jewish rabbinical scholars who are expert in Torah medical ethics issues.)
In response, the Hedgehog thinks that Frist does not deserve all the brickbats that have been tossed his way. I think his approach is reasonable. Still, I am somewhat nervous about a possible "slippery slope." This being capitalist America (and God bless it!) I shudder to think of "embryo mills" arising that could make a good income off of creating and selling human embryos. The structures are all in place to do that. Any in vitro fertilization (IVF) lab in the country could immediately start such a product line. Perhaps the embryos could even be engineered. Who knows what dark paths that could take us down?

Two counterpoints make me feel somewhat better. First, it is reassuring that Frist himself is strongly against the creation of embryos simply for harvesting of stem cells. Second, as George will notes about my specific concern:

Life, however, is lived on a slippery slope: Taxation could become confiscation; police could become gestapos. But the benefits from taxation and police make us willing to wager that our judgment can stop slides down dangerous slopes.
A good point, I'll concede. I would feel better still if, after legislation is passed funding stem cell research in the manner Frist proposes (assuming that ever happens), the law also forbade such commercial creation of embryos. I have serious qualms about the enforceability of such a prohibition. But I'm willing to be convinced that the Frist approach is prudent. George Will concludes:

Both Bush and Frist have thought seriously about this subject and come to mildly divergent conclusions. But neither conclusion crosses the scarlet line of supporting the creation of embryos to be mere sources of cells. And neither conclusion is the result of the sort of slapdash thinking that exaggerates the differences between them and explains those differences in terms of banal political calculations.
Okay, we shall see.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the brickbats tossed at Senator Frist are, IMO, deserved. If I understand the facts correctly, Senator Frist gave no advance notice to the administration that he intended to make a public announcement--via the New York Times, no less--of a position that, regardless of how close or far the Administration's views may be to it, it would be easy to anticipate would be trumpeted by opponents of the administration as another "defeat" for the President. (Some have suggested that the President and/or the administration "should have realized" this was coming. Even if they could have and/or "should have," the exact timing or manner of the actual break with the President's position couldn't be anticipated.)

I have no problem with Sen. Frist's taking the position he has. However, as one of the supposed leaders of what is supposed to be a Republican majority, the way this was handled smacks of some measure of disloyalty rather than simply honest disagreement, small or large, over policy. 

Posted by BlueBuffoon

Friday, August 05, 2005 9:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My problem with this whole subject is what the heck is the government doing getting into any direct stem cell research funding. And even if they should, why aren’t they following the private money, which is into adult stem cells where there have been breakthroughs. Even the MSM has reported some of the negatives out of utilizing embryonic stem cells – problems with uncontrolled growth, i.e. cancer. The Maryland legislature granted money for embryonic stem cell research, even when it was reported that very few private companies in the state were interested in that line of research. I guess it is part PC and the emotional congressional testimony that pushes the need for embryonic research to be publicly funded. Who can say no to the hopes of people afflicted with dreaded diseases?  

Posted by Alan Reasin

Friday, August 05, 2005 6:40:00 PM  

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