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.