Human Exceptionalism

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An Insider’s Report of the Big Bush Stem Cell Funding Decision


An article in Commentary by former Bush Administration staffer Jay P. Lefkowitz is a very interesting read. It amounts to an inside story about how and why President Bush made his controversial stem cell funding decision that has caused "the scientists" and media so much heartburn. It is a long piece but a few points stand out. One, for example, is that prominent scientists told Bush things in private that they have rarely repeated in public. Lefkowitz writes:
On the hard science of embryonic research, the meetings reflected a greater ambiguity than boosterish media reports indicated was the case. Several scientists told Bush plainly that the efficacy of embryonic stem cells remained to be proved. As a result, some felt that only a few lines were needed to determine whether the field had genuine potential or was just a pipe dream.

Indeed, in an interview with the
New York Times shortly before Bush's August speech, Irving Weissman of Stanford stated that "a finite number [of stem-cell lines] would be sufficient. If we had 10-15 lines, no one would complain."
Of course, Weissman later changed his tune and many of "the scientists" so over hyped the immediate potential of ESCR that I believe the credibility of science has suffered a blow.
Toward the end of the piece, Lefkowitz summarizes his view of the Bush policy and the impact of the Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell technique:
Now that the debate seems to be over, what can we say about Bush's policy and the long months it took for him to devise it? I think it is fair to look upon it as a model of how to deal with the complicated scientific and ethical dilemmas that will continue to confront political leaders in the age of biotechnology. Bush refused to accept the notion that we must choose between medical research and the principle of the dignity of life at every stage. He sought both to advance biomedical science and at the same time to respect the sanctity of human life. In the end he came to a moderate, balanced decision that drew a prudent and principled line. The decision was both informed and reasoned, based on lengthy study and consultation with people of widely divergent viewpoints. It was consciously not guided by public-opinion polls.
This is a heterodox view, of course, but it worth the read even for those who despise Bush and his policy. And it seems right to me. From my discussions with those who have been literally into the Oval Office about these matters, there is no question in my mind that Bush acted with integrity and courage. And, as I have written previously, while I don't think the stem cell wars are over--believe me "the scientists" are working overtime to create cloned embryos and cloned stem cell lines in part to overcome the political impact of the iPSCs--the president deserves great credit for the way things seem to be turning.


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