Monday, March 9, 2009

Today, I am Embarrassed to be a Democrat

Today, 9 March, President Barack Obama signed into law a proclamation encouraging stem-cell research on aborted children. The White House’s webpage proudly declares, “President Obama lifts restrictions on stem cell research and ensures sound science will no longer fall victim to politics.” At best, this statement is disingenuous, at worse, it is idiotic. Ever since the Greeks invented politics, humans have recognized that we are political animals. The Greeks and the Romans, who borrowed their cultural ideas from the Greeks, realized that politics, religion, indeed, all the cultural aspects of our lives were inextricably bound together. Obama, an intelligent law professor, is well aware of this fact. Rather, stating that “science will not fall victim to politics” is a dishonest way of cutting off all debate. Anybody who disagrees with the validity of embryonic stem cell research is easily silenced by stating that such concerns are only “political.” Of course, the discussion is political – all social discussions are, by definition, political. The Greeks and the Romans knew this, and so does Mr. Obama.

The magical cure-all of embryonic stem cell research is a nefarious plan to legalize all abortions. Like all magic wands, the benefits of embryonic stem cells is a fabrication. Dr. Wolfgang Lillge has written a number of articles comparing and contrasting the verifiable benefits of adult stem cell research and the purported benefits of embryonic stem cell research. While I disagree with some of Lillge’s political views, he points out three, verifiable problems with using embryonic stem cells: 1.) the greater likelihood of embryonic stem cells creating tumors because they are so undifferentiated; 2.) genetic instability; 3.) the use of embryonic stem cell research to forward reproductive cloning. According to an article in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ”`Makeover’ Sidesteps Stem Cells” by John Fauber (28 August 2008), “After more than a decade of trying to harvest the promise of embryonic stem cells, scientists have hit on a fascinating new approach that sidesteps them entirely.” The scientists used a much more promising approach: adult stem cells which are far more reliable. A similar story, “An Extreme Makeover of a Cell” by Rob Stein appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution Of course, stating this scientific fact is covering up science with that nasty political drivel. But, as Yuval Levin points out in “Obama’s False Choice,” in National Review Online, even debating the merits of embryonic stem cell research has now been quashed by the “no politics” shibboleth. Here's a political question: at what point does the government start to pay people to have children who have interesting genetic traits that might be valuably "harvested"?

After signing this Presidential order, Mr. Obama will undoubtedly work to get the shamelessly named “Freedom of Choice Act” passed into law. The “Freedom” in this act means freedom as long as you don’t mean the freedom of parents to be informed about their daughters’ surgical procedures, freedom not be informed about possible risks of a medical procedure, or the freedom of the citizens of a state to have a say in issues they consider morally important, or the freedom to oppose partial-birth and live-birth abortions , or the freedom of hospital employees to oppose a procedure they find morally reprehensible, or the freedom not have your tax money pay for government-sanctioned murder . Truly, the ability of the federal government to run roughshod over the wishes of a significant portion of society will issue in a Brave New World.

I’ve been a Democrat all my adult life. The Democratic Party used to be the party that worked to ensure equal rights for the poor and disfranchised. The Democratic Party successfully lead the push to enfranchise African-Americans and to gain women equal rights. The Party’s efforts paid off for other minorities as well. Now, the Democratic Party, my party, has well and truly abandoned the weakest of all. Today, I am embarrassed to be a Democrat. The Party of life is making the final transition to the Party of Death.

Some further observations and ruminations. Supposedly, Mr. Obama wants to rescue science from politics. Yet, Michael J. Fox, tragically stricken with Parkinson’s disease,has been the major spokesman in this country for embryonic stem cell research. He was a harsh critic of the Bush Administration’s decision to fund only adult stem cell research and in a few lines of already established embryonic stem cells. Fox, a Canadian citizen, did not become an American citizen until 2000 so he could more readily lobby the government for support of stem cell research. That’s politics.

The answer to the question of motivation for scientists demanding this research, like so many similar questions, comes down to money. In the US, both tenure and promotion decisions for university scientists are reduced to funding. The more grants a scientist gets, the more likely he or she will be tenured or promoted. Universities don’t like to fund research themselves. Embryonic stem cell research offers the possibility of virtually unlimited funding.

The language used to justify this research is not the rational language usually associated with scientific enquiry. Global Warming studies have been generously funded thanks to using the pseudo-religious language of the apocalypse ( . Now, embryonic stem cell research is being proclaimed as our salvation. A useful parallel can be drawn with the current apocalypse/salvation model of scientific funding to a similar alignment in the 1980s. Back then, everything caused cancer (including dimes). If you were a biologist, the easiest way to get bag loads of government funding was to do research on cancer. Obviously, cancer was the apocalypse. The scientific salvation in the 1980s was interferon. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on discovering all the diseases this potential cure-all would eradicate. We still have cancer, and interferon is only of limited value.

So, despite the fact that other countries have been conducting research on embryonic stem cells (including Canada) with little to no significant results, the US government will now fund the world’s salvation. Hordes of scientists will now happily suckle at the teats of the giant sow that is the federal government. Now, that’s politics.