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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006


a veto for progress

posted by Aziz P. at Wednesday, July 19, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
Matoko-chan deseerves some serious props for her stem-cell related posts over the past few months - and for her, it's deeply personal. As she notes, the argument by the conservatives who are applauding the President's impending veto that the need embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) is rendered moot by adult stem cell lines (ASCR), is bogus. These are complementary technologies, not competitive ones. The administration's dishonest statements to the contrary, adult lines simply do not have the differentiation potential that embryonic lines do - a fact vouched for by 80 Nobel laureates.

Others may ask, why do we need federal funding? Why can't private funding foot the bill? Simply put, because ESCR is the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Project rolled into one. ESCR isn't an overnight panacea; therefore the immense profits are a long way off, far too long a horizon to justify the expense. NASA is why we have independent spaceflight companies like Scaled Composites (SpaceShip One) and Blue Origin today; the original and ongoing government investment is what lowered the risk and created the scientific and personnel infrastructure that we will reap benefits from for the next hundred years, even as NASA itself declines. Even mighty California, a state whose GDP would rank it among the world's wealthiest nations, can't sustain via its stem-cell ballot initiative efforts the kind of investment over the next several decades that is needed for ESCR to bear fruit.

Others attempt to draw an equivalence between ESCR and organ harvesting. Slippery slope, they argue - ignoring the fact that a ban on fetal farming passed the Senate by unanimous vote, is expected to easily pass the House, and will be signed into law with no fanfare by President Bush later this week. Given that ESCR is the exact opposite of fetal farming - wherein eventually future generations grow their own replacement organs from stem cells harvested at birth - the President's veto today makes a black market in harvested organs all the more likely.

Ultimately, today's veto represents a significant repudiation of the idea that we can use technology for moral ends. Saving lives, curing disease - all using non-viable embryos that would have been discarded into the trash and never attained snowflake-baby status - all from the biological equivalent of splitting the atom. The history of American technology has shown that we as a society have used our immense knowledge and advantages for the greater good - that we as a society can be trusted with the keys to Pandora's box. However, the Administration says otherwise; the Singularity will have to wait.

UPDATE: rikurzhen at GNXP critiques Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO thusly:

Ramesh: It is certainly true that if the president's goal were to maximize embryonic stem-cell research, to the exclusion of other concerns, he would adopt a more liberal policy. The director of the National Institutes of Health has said as much, in a statement that pro-funding polemicists have treated as a devastating admission. But it is also true that no researcher has complained that the current policy is impeding him; the complaints have been more along the lines that the policy is keeping people from going into the field.

This implies a serious lack of understanding of how biomedical science is done... it's done by grad students, post docs and assistant profs (i.e. new people). Additionally, ESC research is relatively new and relatively small. Keeping it from growing means keeping it from happening.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.