Friday, May 27, 2005

What's wrong with Bush's stem cell policy

The New York Times carried an editorial yesterday criticizing President Bush for his firm opposition to the Congressional movement to use leftover human embryos from IVF that would otherwise be discarded for scientific research. It argues that he is inappropriately imposing his own moral views onto America at large.
His actions are based on strong religious beliefs on the part of some conservative Christians, and presumably the president himself. Such convictions deserve respect, but it is wrong to impose them on this pluralistic nation.
Although I'm about as opposed to the President on this particular policy issue as it's possible to be, I think that the Times's criticism is dead wrong. The problem isn't that the President is imposing moral views that are outside the American mainstream (although of course he is). The problem is that he's imposing moral views that are short-sighted, confused, and just plain wrong. As I've focused on recently, the President's position is either inconsistent or grossly morally irresponsible (or both). And it's also just implausible -- the Times editorial got this part right:
The president's policy is based on the belief that all embryos, even the days-old, microscopic form used to derive stem cells in a laboratory dish, should be treated as emerging human life and protected from harm. This seems an extreme way to view tiny laboratory entities that are no larger than the period at the end of this sentence and are routinely flushed from the body by Mother Nature when created naturally. These blastocysts, as they are called, bear none of the attributes we associate with humanity and, sitting outside the womb, have no chance of developing into babies.
If the President's moral view were correct -- or maybe even if it were merely justified -- then his opposition to this medical research might be understandable, forgivable, appropriate, or morally required. Even if the view were out of the mainstream. We must put the criticism in the correct place.


  1. Glad you're back to blogging. I've missed you keeping me up to date on the latest political nonsense and suggesting cool ideas to contemplate.


  2. Thanks, Alexis -- I'm very glad to be back.

  3. His whole "life begins at conception" philosophy is shared by some, and some people consider valid. It's not necessarily his view that I have a problem with. It is the fact that congress who is elected and represents the people are passing this legislation and the president is vetoing it which is in effect imposing the will of the "moral minority" on the rest of the population who recognizes the value of this scientific resources.

  4. My personal interest is in finding a cure for Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes. My
    now 15 year old daughter was diagnosed almost 5 years ago. So far, she has
    pricked her fingers approximately 11,000 times, and has taken about 7,500
    insulin injections. If she had cancer, she could hope to be cured – or at
    least to go into remission so she wouldn''t need 4 or 5 or 6 insulin shots
    every day just to stay alive. Right now, all we can hope for is that she
    doesn't have a heart attack or a stroke, that she doesn't go blind, that
    her kidneys keep working and that her feet and legs don't have to be amputated.

    Now, let me tell you about the economics of diabetes. Diabetics test their
    blood sugar levels at least four times a day – children with type 1
    juvenile diabetes test more like 6 to 8 timees a day. These little test
    strips that are used to measure blood glucose levels cost, conservatively
    and on average, 70 cents per strip. Diabetics who test their blood glucose
    level just 4 times per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime) are spending
    Two Dollars and Eighty Cents per day, or a little over a thousand dollars a
    year, minimum, on these strips. That's over a billion dollars per year for
    every 1 million diabetics, and there are an estimated 17 million people
    suffering from diabetes in the US alone.

    Next, I am going to review the financials from the 2003 and 2004 Annual
    Reports of Eli Lilly & Company, one of the major producers of insulin.
    Before I do, I want to remind you that insulin will never cure diabetes. It
    is what my 15-year-old refers to as her 'lifeline'. It keeps a diabetic
    alive, but does not prevent the catastrophic side effects. And it will
    never cure anyone!

    2003: "Our worldwide sales…increaseed 14%, to 12.58 billion dollars."
    Sources of revenue: "Diabetes care products, composed primarily of
    Humulin…Humalog…and Actos…hs…had aggregate worldwide revenues of 2.57
    billion dollars." Ladies and gentlemen, 20% of the worldwide sales were
    from 3 products, 2 of which (Humulin and Humalog) are for 'maintenance' of
    type 1 diabetics. In 2003, Humulin sales in the US were 507.5 million
    dollars, and were 658.6 million dollars for Humalog.

    The 2004 numbers are equally staggering. The same three products had
    aggregate worldwide revenues of 2.61 billion dollars. Humulin sales in the
    US were only 422.7 million, but Humalog sales in the US were up to 685.4
    million dollars. An explanation offered by Eli Lilly is (and this is a
    direct quote!) "Humalog sales in the US increased 3 percent as increased
    prices offset slight volume declines."

    That's 5.18 billion dollars in a two-year period – to treat patients who
    will not get better. That's a whole loot of insurance and medicare dollars
    going to two drugs to maintain a condition for which there actually might
    be a cure.

    Breakthroughs using stem cell therapies have been announced all over the
    world, and involving many conditions, such as reversing the side effects of
    diabetes, curing type 1 juvenile diabetes, restoration of immune systems in
    cancer patients, improvement of a Parkinson's patient's motor skills by
    83%, reversal of heart tissue damage in a heart attack victim, the list
    goes on and on. Stem cells work, and more research is needed.

    This is not a religious issue. This is a health issue. This is a "where are
    my Medicare dollars going?" issue – a quality of life issue Even though
    the dollars are huge, let's not forget that the main benefits from stem
    cell research and therapies are to improve the health and to save the lives
    of millions who suffer, or who may in the future suffer from diseases that
    could be treated or cured with new stem cell therapies. We are talking
    about improvement of the quality of a human life!

  5. Can someone explain to me why, exactly, it is so obviously absurd to grant human rights to a human embryo? I've had people explain this by means of reiteration, as though mantric repetition would prove persuasive, but it hasn't. I don't hold that view, but I'm at a loss for any really good reason why I can reject it. President Bush's inconsistency on this is, quite frankly, irrelevant. We don't oppose him when we agree with him simply because he's inconsistent; we oppose him because we disagree with him. So, leaving ad hominem arguments and mantric repetition behind, can someone explain to me why, exactly, an embryo is so obviously not a candidate for moral consideration?

  6. Would baggiegenes suggest that the will of the majority should be imposed in any case whatever? If not, why not? A persuasive answer to the above question will take care of this problem.

  7. And no, this isn't a religious issue. At least, it's not a religious issue unless 'human rights' are a religious issue. Of course, if you believe that human rights have the ontological status of hobgoblins, then perhaps they do qualify as a 'religious issue.' But then we would need to stop expecting appeals to them to hold water.

  8. That's an important question, Anon-11:22, and I'd like to spend some serious time thinking about it.

    I'm going to start two new threads about this, double-posting here and Fake Barn Country. Mostly philosophers read FBC -- I'm not sure, but I think that lately, I'm getting more of a politics-interested audience here. (Obviously, there is overlap, but maybe seperate comments threads will be useful.)


    Have you ever noticed how many Republicans, starting with President Bush, claim to be against Stem Cell Research because of the moral and ethical considerations? Have you noticed how they are fixed on 'embryonic' stem cell rather than admitting the successes of adult stem cells?

    Let me shed some light on why they have taken this position. In addition to Eli Lilly telling me that it would never support anything that would ever cure diabetes, and admitting that 20% of its 12 billion dollars in revenue in 2003 came from the sale of insulin (diabetes has been reversed in other countries), look at all of the campaign contributions made by the pharmaceuticals to our elected officials:

    Pharmaceutical Manufacturing:
    Top 20 Recipients

    Election cycle: 20042002200019981996199419921990

    List Top 20: All RecipientsPresidential CandidatesSenatorsMembers of the HouseSenate CandidatesHouse CandidatesAll Members of Congress


    Bush, George W (R)

    Kerry, John (D)

    Burr, Richard (R-NC)

    Ferguson, Mike (R-NJ)

    Specter, Arlen (R-PA)

    Hastert, Dennis (R-IL)

    Gregg, Judd (R-NH)

    Dodd, Chris (D-CT)

    Bond, Christopher S 'Kit' (R-MO)

    Barton, Joe (R-TX)

    Bennett, Robert F (R-UT)

    DeLay, Tom (R-TX)

    John, Chris (D-LA)

    Lieberman, Joe (D-CT)

    Bayh, Evan (D-IN)

    Johnson, Nancy L (R-CT)

    Martinez, Mel (R-FL)

    Simmons, Rob (R-CT)

    Isakson, Johnny (R-GA)

    Frelinghuysen, Rodney (R-NJ)

    Notice how many Republicans are listed above?

    Send to Democratic Party!

  10. Since my right to reply John's last accusation against me cannot be made in the Fake Barn County, I shall say this:

    Minimal intellectual standards entail knowing at least some basic knowledge.
    Persons who deny obvious facts such as France is in Europe or water freezes at 32F have the burden to prove the contrary. A burden that is impossible. And it is up to John to prove that (P1) is far from true, which he can only do by pretending not to know basic facts and by adhering to a kind of totalitarian and reactionary Philosophy.

    The comparison between embryos and nails is just of the same inhuman, unjust and fascist essence as the comparison between Blacks and Apes which pro-slavery and Nazis made long ago.