seems only political…

Posted on Thursday 26 August 2010

I’m in the second week of a wandering vacation in New York State sort of on sabbatical from blogging, but some stories just stand out and grab one’s attention. It started with defining an early embryo as a person in the antiabortion  wars. While I don’t personally buy it, I can at least follow the logic. But this:
Embryonic stem cell lines are cultures of cells derived from the epiblast tissue of the inner cell mass  of a blastocyst or earlier morula stage embryos. A blastocyst is an early stage embryo—approximately four to five days old in humans and consisting of 50–150 cells. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent and give rise during development to all derivatives of the three primary germ layers: ectoderm, endoderm and mesoderm. In other words, they can develop into each of the more than 200 cell types of the adult body when given sufficient and necessary stimulation for a specific cell type. They do not contribute to the extra-embryonic membranes or the placenta.
The whole point of a "stem cell" is that it hasn’t yet differentiated into anything. It’s not something yet. How can that be "a person"? The logic escapes me. The medical possibilities, however, are very exciting. Now we have this ruling saying, "it involves the destruction of human embryos":
Talking Points Memo
by Christina Bellatoni
August 23, 2010

A U.S. district court today halted the federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, saying it involves the destruction of human embryos, potentially re-igniting a longtime cultural hot button issue just in time for the fall elections. The Washington-based court was ruling in favor of a June lawsuit filed by a researcher objecting to President Obama’s policy allowing federal funding. Obama overturned former President George W. Bush’s policy by implementing new National Institutes of Health guidelines shortly after taking office. Obama’s March 2009 decision reversed Bush’s August 2001 actions. Congress twice tried to circumvent Bush, passing a bill allowing for federal funding, but Bush vetoed the measure each time.

When signing the executive order, Obama talked about the "difficult and delicate balance" of such research, which could lead to "medical miracles" but also upsets many people who believe the process ends a life. The president said that research has great potential and "with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided."

Obama said:
    But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research – and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.

U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth — who initially threw the suit out, but found it in his court again when an appeals court ruled the plaintiffs did have grounds to sue — today ordered that the NIH and Department of Health and Human Services are "enjoined from implementing, applying, or taking any action whatsoever" as it relates to the guidelines, "or otherwise funding research involving human embryonic stem cells as contemplated in the guidelines." Key to Lamberth’s ruling is Congress’ Dickey-Wicker amendment, which made federal funding illegal to begin with. Here’s how the New York Times described it last spring:
    The ban, known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment, first became law in 1996, and has been renewed by Congress every year since. It specifically bans the use of tax dollars to create human embryos — a practice that is routine in private fertility clinics — or for research in which embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury. At first, the ban stood in the way of taxpayer-financed embryonic stem cell research, because embryos are destroyed when stem cells are extracted from them. But in August 2001, in a careful compromise, President Bush opened the door a tiny crack, by ordering that tax dollars could be used for studies on a small number of lines, or colonies, of stem cells already extracted from embryos — so long as federal researchers did not do the extraction themselves.
The ruling was such a surprise that several organizations who are considered experts on stem cell research hadn’t even heard about it when contacted by TPM for reaction. But once they studied up on the ruling, they said long legal battles are expected to go on.

A representative for one of those groups who declined to be named said most stem cell research advocates have long believed the issue is far from settled. "Until there is some final determination on this, this is going to keep going through the courts," the source said. Bloomberg reported last fall that the pro-life groups who brought the lawsuit, including an embryo-adoption agency and the Christian Medical Association, were told by the same judge their case didn’t have standing. "Embryos lack standing because they are not persons under the law" and the unborn have no right to life protected under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, Lamberth ruled, Bloomberg reported.

The White House and HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department is reviewing the ruling, DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said. Read Lamberth’s ruling here:U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth Temporarily Halts Federally Funded Embryonic Stem Cell Research
So the argument is that undifferentiated stem cells from a ~100 cell blastocyst represent  a person, or that the blastocyst that was created to harvest stem cells could have been a person. By this logic, we should have no medicine at all. Men playing God, trying to alleviate suffering, prolonging life. That extrapolation sounds absurd, but that’s the way these people seem to be playing it. Let nature [God] take its course. This is an intrusion into medicine that seems only political to me – an issue to keep the divisive climate started by the Moral Majority alive. They don’t object to transplantation of human organs. Why object to harvesting undifferentiated stem cells to start cell cultures that have such an enormous medical potential?

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