Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's a "Brave New World", Mr. Bush

Think Progress » Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ Convinced Bush To Ban Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Isn't that neat? You can read the whole story above, but it's neatly encapsulated in the hyperlink.
The dystopian novel "Brave New World" had Bush freaking out over the possibilities that humans would one day be bred in hatcheries if the government supported stem-cell research. In a stunning stroke of political mastery, Bush angered both sides of the debate by refusing government funding for new stem cell lines while not banning stem cell research entirely. Feel free to read the whole article by Jay Lefkowitz (a presidential advisor), it really is an interesting scoop on how this president came to his decision.

As a first step, Bush asked me to prepare a set of background reading materials on the scientific aspects of stem-cell research. He also asked for a summary of the relevant laws of other countries, and a description of what the world’s leading religions had to say on the issue. Once I began turning in my memos, a day rarely passed when he did not call with a follow-up request or a question about something he had read. It was clear that in addition to the material I submitted, he was also finding other things to read and was talking about stem cells with friends and intimates.

One morning at 6:30, my wife summoned me from the shower to answer a call from the White House; the President had been speaking about the issue the night before with a friend and had a barrage of questions he wanted me to answer or look into immediately. At a ceremony in the Rose Garden, Bush saw a physician he knew and invited him back to the Oval Office where they spent fifteen minutes discussing stem cells. During a birthday party for a member of the White House medical unit, the President asked each of the doctors present to set forth his own position. At a gathering with medical groups and doctors to discuss the pending Patients’ Bill of Rights, he queried each physician about the scientific potential of stem-cell research, the ethical quandaries involved, and what the best public policy would be.

Bush also discussed the issue on many occasions with individual members of Congress, and spoke about it to nearly all the members of his Cabinet. (After one Cabinet meeting, Secretary of State Colin Powell followed him into the Oval Office to make sure Bush was aware of his views.) Nor did he confine himself to the precincts of the White House or of Washington. In May, traveling to Notre Dame to give the commencement speech, he spoke with the university’s president, Father Edward Malloy, and a number of scientists on the faculty. The next day, at Yale, he sat down with Harold Varmus, who had served under Clinton as director of the NIH and was the president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Hmmmm, so I guess if you were anywhere within 300 miles of George W. Bush during this time, you probably had to fill out a survey on what you thought he should do. Great. Let's just have the Gallup organization serve a term as leader of the free world.
Mr. Lefkowitz makes it clear where he stands looking back on the issue:
In the coming decades, scientific advances will compel Presidents and politicians to confront vexing choices on subjects that were once solely the province of dystopian science fiction: human cloning, fetal farming, human-animal hybrid embryos, and situations as yet unimagined and unimaginable. If we are to benefit from the great promise of the age of biotechnology while preventing grave ethical abuses, we can only hope that future Presidents will be guided by the same seriousness with which George W. Bush pursued the question of stem-cell research, as well as by his stout refusal to be seduced by the siren song of political expediency. [emphasis mine]
I will be the first to agree that because science can do something, does not mean that it should do something. However, I think the point of view advocated above is so hysterical, so over the top, that it is almost humorous. Or it would be if it weren't the point of view shared by so many stem-cell research opponents. It's going to be a while before GoatBoy becomes palatable. Hopefully never. However, if you are opposed to these sorts of things, then you have already missed the boat. Sundry animals and their parts have been used for years to prolong human life, and you can't stuff that genie back in the bottle. From new heart valves to pig insulin, the easiest way to save human life is to rig up our own solutions until science produces something better. There sure doesn't appear to have been any intelligent design from the start.
It's also worth remembering that the stem cell debate is not the same as the cloning debate and neither is the same as the xenotransplantation debate. There are well-reasoned arguments on both sides, but I don't believe 1930's fiction should serve as the deciding factor when it comes to national science policy.

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