Friday, July 21, 2006

Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Weapons of Mass Distortion

The three letter acronym WMD is an important part of Modern American Culture, as the purported existence of WMDs was one of the many pretexts that President George Dubya used for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That's why I enjoy referring to Dubya's political posturing regarding embryonic stem cell research as Weapons of Mass Distortion, also abbreviated WMDs. To wit, after vetoing additional funding for embryonic stem cell research, Dubya trotted out a collection of test tube babies to sit behind him at a news conference that he held at the White House. To hear Dubya tell it, he was drawing a line in the sand so that unborn children like these would not be carved out of their mothers' wombs and have their organs sold for parts to the highest bidder.

What Dubya failed to mention is that for every one child sitting behind him in the Rose Garden during his press conference there were countless unwanted human embryos that were discarded and/or destroyed by fertility clinics after their clients conceived the children they wanted, and witholding additional federal funding for embryonic stem cell research won't change that. And just to be perfectly clear, the embryonic stem cells that scientists harvest for their research usually come from a very small handful of unwanted human embryos that are less than two weeks old and have a total of about 100 cells. By way of comparison, a viable human fetus that has developed organ systems at the end of its first trimester is comprised of trillions of cells, and is usually of no use to scientists pursuing embryonic stem cell research.

The sanctity of human life is a legitimate concern, but denying federal funding for embryonic stem cell research does nothing to protect human life. All it does is insure that a huge number of unwanted human embryos will be discarded and/or destroyed by fertility clinics notwithstanding the fact that the people who created those embryos no longer have any use for them and would like to donate them to science in the hopes of helping someone else through medical research. One might as well deny federal funding to medical schools that want to use cadavers to train student doctors.

Although it's clearly newsworthy that Dubya vetoed his first piece of legislation, it should come as no surprise to anyone that he vetoed a bill that tried to provide additional federal funding for stem cell research. As a libertarian, I suppose I should be pleased that Dubya has finally drawn the line and said no to funding something that should be funded by the private sector, but federal funding is the way that Dubya and his ilk impose their hegemony upon scientists, and these doctors have very few other places to seek funding. That's why I proposed the Budget Ballot, a form of direct democracy that would make Dubya's political posturing in re stem cell research wholly irrelevant.

Make no mistake about it: Scientists are playing God when it comes to using fertility treatments to create human life, and they've done a pretty good job of increasing the chances that people who want to have their own children can have their own children. But even under the best case scenario, the chances of a sperm becoming an actual human being are still no better than a billion to one, and unless its attached itself to a woman's uterus, the odds of a fertilized zygote or embryo aren't that much better. On the other extreme, with sufficient federal funding, unwanted human embryos that are currently being discarded by fertility clinics could be used to advance scientific medical research and help people who are already alive to live longer, healthier lives.

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