Human Exceptionalism

Regarding the Pending Stem Cell Votes in the Senate

I have heard from people requesting that I post my thoughts about the upcoming Senate votes on funding embryonic stem cell research, funding “alternative sources” for deriving pluripotent stem cells, and the ban on “fetal farming.” So, here goes:

The vote to increase funding for ESCR is just so much hype. With existing federal, state, and private funding, ES cell scientists already have more money available than they can spend at the moment. Moreover, the bill will not become law while President Bush is in office, since he will exercise his first veto. The media will huff and puff but I don’t think it will hurt the president politically since he is merely keeping a campaign promise.

I do note with some amusement (and no surprise) the very personal attack against the credibility of my good friend David Prentice by the forces of Big Biotech. David has worked very hard to make the world aware of the potential for adult stem cell research, and this attack is clearly timed for the Senate vote. (See the Do No Harm Web site for an initial response.) Apparently, David has drawn blood by pointing out that adult stem cells are treating human ailments either in clinical settings, or more often, in early human trials around the world. Scientists can’t say anything like that about ES cells since they are unsafe, at present, for human use.

The big news for me is the bill to fund alternative sources of stem cells, which is expected to pass by a huge margin, followed quickly by a House vote. This is a personal triumph for my good friend Bill Hurlbut who has worked intensely for years to raise the level of public awareness about this possibility. The bill would not only fund animal research into altered nuclear transfer (ANT), which is Bill’s project, but other innovative approaches as well, such as the potential to revert a patient’s own cells into an embryonic stem cell state.

The ban on fetal farming is important because it draws a first line in the sand, which is only the beginning of an important process aimed at ensuring that biotechnology does not run out of control. This bill will also pass easily, perhaps unanimously, followed by an immediate vote in the House.

My understanding is that President Bush will sign the two bills and veto the one at an East Room ceremony at the White House on Wednesday. I have been invited to attend the President’s speech, which I was honored to accept. I will post my reaction to what he has to say when I return from Washington.

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