President Obama has lifted the restriction on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. This means that scientists can apply for government money to fund their research. Previous to this, labs had to segregate everything–literally, everything from buildings to microscopes–to prove that they weren't using federal dollars for ESC research.
Since 2001, stem cell research funding has been limited. Yes, this hampered progress. Yes, it slowed down the research. But when
it comes to such morally fraught issues, we exercise caution
necessarily. It's not as if former President George W. Bush wanted
America to fall behind in scientific advancement. I think he understood
that technology and scientific advancement ought to move in tandem with
ethical and moral discussions.
However, I do think Bush's
restriction was politically motivated since it did nothing to reduce
the actual number of embryos being destroyed. The real issue is not who gets to use what money, but whether or not destruction of human embryos is moral. Period. After all, fertility clinics have been incinerating leftover embryos for years. Where was the public outcry about that?
I was struck by the comments from Dr. Curt Civin (founding director of the Maryland Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine):
was already life that was going to be destroyed," he said. "The choice is throw them away or use them for research."
Well, at least he's admitting it's LIFE. That's not something you hear scientists say too often. And he does make a good point: scientists are merely proposing to bring some good from "life that was going to be destroyed" anyway. If we were going to be morally outraged, we should have done that right when in vitro technology precluded the destruction of "leftover" embryos. Now that researchers have proposed co-opting these embryos for research, it seems somewhat hypocritical to cry foul.
Still, if we admit that a human embryo is life, then we must ask ourselves: is it ethical to destroy one life to save another?
Furthermore, is it morally acceptable to use taxpayer dollars to do so?
With each new scientific breakthrough there arises the need for its ethical governance. This is because with great advancement comes the potential for great exploitation. New laws must be written, oversight committees formed and accountability enforced. Otherwise, we'll have "Octomom" scenarios run amuck. Except instead of over-implanting embryos, people will be lining up to have themselves cloned. Yikes.
Has President Obama given the taxpayers enough information? He assures us that his administration will develop "strict guidelines" for stem cell experiments. OK, but what will those guidelines look like? Will the researchers be accountable to the government? Or a
private oversight committee? Will there be direct, punitive action
taken if these federally funded labs & experiments do not adhere to said guidelines?
On the other hand, I have nothing but utmost respect for these underpaid, hard working scientists. At least they care about the suffering of humanity. Unlike, say, guys named Madoff. Or Bernanke, for that matter.
If these unheralded rock-star scientists can discover the cure for childhood leukemia, should we with-hold embryos that are going to be destroyed anyway?
I don't know. Do two wrongs make a right? Do the ends justify the means?
I do know President Obama ought to give us more concrete answers before he starts spending our tax dollars.