Human Exceptionalism

Scientific Structures: Dominence and Strength

By Jennifer Lahl

My colleague, Evan Rosa, has a great piece here on the recent approval of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to award $271 million dollars in facilities grants to 12 academic and research institutions. 800,000 square feet of buildings to be erected by 2010 for the purpose of embryonic stem cell and human cloning research funded by the California taxpayers.

10 of the 12 buildings will be on university campuses. Like the University of California, Berkeley’s Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, which will boast 60,000 square-feet and 12 labs dedicated to embryonic stem cell research.

Rosa writes, “Structures are suggestive . And these buildings, bought on the Prop 71 budget, suggest something radical: academic, political and cultural approval of (human) embryonic stem cell research. They are monuments—monoliths even—of scientific dominance and strength.

Even Robert Klein, chairman of CIRM’s governing agency , agrees, “This Prop 71 stem cell research facilities program is one of the largest building programs ever dedicated for a new field of medical science and it will deliver an impact that will be felt worldwide.”

Consider this final thought: Klein also responds to the May 7, 2008, hESC research facilities decision that “[California research institutions’] incredible commitment [of funding] underscores the promise that stem cell research holds for patients suffering from chronic disease and injury.”

There’s that word again. Promise . For such a politically skeptical culture—people so wary of the easy words of our would-be leaders—we sure have exhibited a lot of faith in the “promise” scientists and politicians are making for human embryos. We’re betting $271 million (and who knows how many human lives?) on that promise this month, and by 2010 and beyond we’ll see how these structures stack up: memorials or mausoleums?”