Thursday, January 8, 2009

the political history of stem cells

I'm not sure this will do it justice, but here are some excerpts from a long but informative, historical article by Joseph Bottum and Ryan Anderson in First Things...

Bottum and Anderson cover the period from 2001 to 2007, opening with John Kerry's 2004 denouncement of the so-called “ban on stem-cell research”.

...there never was any such ban. In August 2001...George Bush became the first president to allow the use of federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research. He limited it to previously established stem-cell lines, but even that was a change from what the Clinton administration had done. Meanwhile, private companies could experiment as they wanted, and state governments could fund them if they chose (as California did...)

Then, to their thesis/question:

What was it about stem cells that so agitated the nation for six years?

Perhaps the recipe looks like this: Take the always-present human hunger for magic—for medicine as a kind of witchcraft, delivering thaumaturgical cures. Add the vague sense, shared by most people, that ever since the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953 we have been living in something like a golden age of biology. Include the strong sense, among political liberals, that religious believers must be discredited before they undo the abortion license. Now, wrap the whole thing up in money, the competition for trillions of dollars in research grants and the biotech companies’ stock dividends.

The end of the (bulk of the) debate? In 2007, when Shinya Yamanaka showed that fully pluripotent stem cells could be created directly from adult cells-- in mice.

And with a silent thump, the topic suddenly fell off the front pages of the nation’s newspapers....

“A decade from now, this will be just a funny historical footnote,” the famed stem-cell scientist James Thomson said shortly after the new research was announced. He may be right, but he shouldn’t be....[This is] a classic study of what happens when politics and science find each other useful.

There are lessons in all this for America’s scientists, beginning with the reminder that politicians are always going to be better at politics than scientists are. The scientific community invested a great deal of its prestige—its standing as an objective, non-partisan reporter—in a public account of stem cells that is now discredited....many of the nation’s most prominent stem-cell researchers openly joined one side in a partisan political debate, with all the demagogueries, lies, and exaggerations that partisan politics creates.

There are lessons, as well, for the rest of us, beginning with the reminder that politically useful science is always suspect....When science dresses up in political clothes, it’s no longer science. It’s only politics.

From there, Bottum and Anderson go back in time to restart their history:

The modern history of stem cells...begins with the first successful bone-marrow transplant in 1968. Although the medical community would not realize it until 1988, the reason the transplants were successful was that bone marrow contains the adult stem cells that help reconstruct the blood-forming system in a patient....

Clinton did accept experimentation on “spares,” the embryos left over from in-vitro procedures, but before the NIH could act on that concession, Congress eliminated the funding. First passed in 1996, the Dickey-Wicker amendment has been revived every year since...

Abortion was a major issue in the 2000 election; stem cells were not.

The Clinton administration never actually funded any embryonic stem-cell projects before leaving office, and the whole mess was left waiting for George W. Bush...

Once in office, Bush decided to undertake a review of stem-cell policy...wasn't necessarily a bad decision, but it made what could have been a one-day story a months-long saga....the political alliances firmed up on both sides, embryonic research inextricably linked to abortion, religion, and big money.

We may forget the extent to which stem cells dominated political news before the attacks of September 11....

in February 2004, the South Korean experimenter Hwang Woo Suk announced that he had achieved what other scientists had been unable to do: creating embryonic stem cells from cloned embryos. And that same winter, the new presidential election began heating up. Stem cells came roaring back into the news....

The “spare embryo” bill passed the Senate in July 2006, forcing Bush to use a veto against a Congress held by his own party.

And yet, even while the Republicans were looking for somewhere to abandon their party’s policy on stem cells, the cracks in the scientific facade were starting to show through. In November 2005, the work of the Korean superstar Hwang Woo Suk was revealed as a fraud....

In the end, the 2006 election produced victory for the Democrats, and the new congressional leaders, Nancy Pelosi in the House and Harry Reid in the Senate, almost immediately began to court stem-cell vetoes from President Bush....By that point, however, Bush’s bet on alternative sources started to look better....

Outside the scientific community, conventional wisdom had long held that investigation into alternative sources for stem cells was merely political cover for President Bush’s foolish bet against what scientists wanted to do—and as soon as the Democrats achieved control of the government, federal funds would flow into human cloning and embryo-destructive research.

All of which made it more peculiar when, in November 2007, the stem-cell wars came to a sharp and sudden end when leading scientists announced that they had discovered ways to create pluripotent stem cells without using—much less killing—human embryos. Embryo destruction became not only unnecessary but also less efficient than alternative methods....

Their conclusion-- and where are we today?

Since that breakthrough, stem cells have barely made the news. Interesting and exciting work is still going on, but what’s changed is the immediate impact of stem cells—the political salience, in other words. For six years, from 2001 through 2007, embryonic stem cells were a weapon in a political battle. And, as in all political battles, usefulness trumps truth, even for the scientists who willingly made themselves into partisans during the debate.

The history of the stem-cell debate is a study of what happens when politics and science reach out to each other. The politicians were guilty, but the scientists were more guilty, for they allowed—no, they encouraged—politicians to make stem-cell research a tool in the public fights over abortion, public religion, and high finance.

In the small demagogueries of a political season, the science of stem-cell research became susceptible to the easy lie and the useful exaggeration. A little shading of truth, a little twisting of facts—yes, the politics corrupted the science, but the scientists willingly aided the corruption. And with this history in mind, who will believe America’s scientists the next time they tell us something that bears on an election? We have learned something over these years: When science looks like politics, that’s because it is.

3 Comments:

At January 9, 2009 at 2:03 PM , Blogger Ray mumme said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At January 9, 2009 at 2:09 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Ray, if you'd like to give us a link to the peer-reviewed journal article-- and some other info-- that'd be fine. But that post crossed "the line"...

Thanks in advance!

 
At January 11, 2009 at 11:11 AM , Blogger Ray mumme said...

Eric,
Thanks for taking the time to understand.
I would like to help educate those who want to learn more about adult stem cells. They have nothing to do with embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells refer to stem cells after birth that we all have in our bone marrow. Dr. Christian Drapeau's fourteen years of studying of this all natural botanical plant, AFA lead him to the discover that we can improve our own stem cell physiology by using this product. A Peer Review study was done last year which proves that it is true. I would like to leave many links and web sites for you to do your own research on this new ground breaking discovery. I personally will take this product till the day I die, and would like any help I can get in educating the world and medical community.
ST_Medical_Journal_of_Medicinal_Food(NK_cells)[1]

WWW.adultstemcellsrelese.com

www.rmumme.stemtechbiz.com

http://naturalwellnessandhealth.blogspot.com/

raymumme@gmail.com

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home