March 9, 2009

Obama Kills Stem-Cell Research - Unless It Kills Embryos, Of Course

Hatched by Dafydd

(This entire post is hat-tipped to Patterico's Pontifications guest-blogger Karl.)

As has been power-blasted across the newsosphere today, President Barack H. Obama today issued an executive order (EO) revoking President George W. Bush's EO that banned federal funding of destructive embryonic stem-cell research (ESC).

But what few realize -- I had no idea until I saw the second update to Karl's post -- is that the same Obama EO that allowed for a return of federal funding of ESC, which I personally support, by the way, also covertly ended Bush's federal-funding program for other forms of stem-cell research... stem-cell research that does not kill a human embryo.

I emphatically oppose ending funding for alternative sources of stem cells; I want to see all stem-cell research funded, especially in areas that have already yielded medical treatments (that is, the non-ESC research). I believe ESC has great potential, but other kinds of stem cells also have potential -- along with actual results.

Naturally, the Obama administration does not have the courage to announce this part of their scheme; here is all they say at the very end of the EO (it didn't come up in the press coverage at all):

Sec. 5. Revocations. (a) The Presidential statement of August 9, 2001, limiting Federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells, shall have no further effect as a statement of governmental policy.

(b) Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007, which supplements [!] the August 9, 2001, statement on human embryonic stem cell research, is revoked.

Googling "Executive Order 13435" reveals that EO 13435 provides, as the National Institutes of Health quotes it, that:

The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall conduct and support research on the isolation, derivation, production, and testing of stem cells that are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding, or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus.

Note that this EO is not the one that prevents federal funding of destructive ESC; it only says that this particular EO directs funding only to non-destructive ESC and other stem-cell sources. In fact, the last non-boilerplate bullet point makes clear that EO 13435 does not forbid funding of ESC:

(c) Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect any policy, guideline, or regulation regarding embryonic stem cell research, human cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer, or any other research not specifically authorized by this order, or to forbid the use of existing stem cell lines deemed eligible for other federally funded research in accordance with the presidential policy decision of August 9, 2001, for research specifically authorized by this order.

That is as clear as clear can be: There's no point to revoking EO 13435 other than terminating funding of alternative stem-cell research. (The complete text of Bush's EO 13435 can be found here.)

President Bush's last Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Okerlund Leavitt, tasked the National Institutes of Health with funding this research into alternative sources of stem cells; NIH created a paper that implemented the order, relying primarily on a previous (2005) "white paper," Alternative Sources of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells from the President’s Council on Bioethics. This white paper identified several promising sources of stem cells that did not require the destruction of a human embryo (including one that we discussed on this very blog).

The NIH program is now dead as a clam. Obama's executive order kills it, without fanfare -- heck, without even notice beyond the bare sentence quoted above, which tells one absolutely nothing and even implies the falsehood that the second order revoked also prevented federal funding of ESC.

It's possible that the Obama administration intends to re-fund such alternative stem-cell research later; but if so, the easiest way for Obama to do so would be to leave Bush's EO in place, but simply direct the incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services (possibly Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, unless she turns out not to have any tax problems) to monkey with the funding to suit Obama's own preferences. There is no reason to kill the entire funding EO; well, no legitimate reason, anyway; there are several possible motivations beyond this defunding, but none of them is charitable (I end with the one I find most convincing):

  1. Political, philosophical, or emotional opposition to any program initiated by George W. Bush.
  2. Visceral opposition to any program "catering" to the religious Right or pro-life crowd.
  3. Vindictive retribution against those who pushed the former president into issuing an EO banning federal funding of destructive ESC. ("Fine! Then I'll erase some of your equations, Filstrup!")
  4. A bizarre pleasure in killing human embryos for no particular reason.
  5. And my personal conclusion, that Barack Obama -- and the liberal and socialist interests he fronts -- fear that medical breakthroughs resulting from research in stem-cells that come from sources other than human embryos might reduce public support for ESC research; so they only want to fund stem-cell research that requires the killing of human embryos.

To me, that fits well with the radical pro-abortion views of, e.g., NOW and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL); those organizations appear to want every woman to have at least one abortion, believing (probably wrongly) that that would produce a permanent constituency for "abortion on demand." I suspect that liberals want ESC precisely because it creates a public good arising from abortion (medical miracles), thus leading to more support for abortion.

Now as I've said many times, I have no objection even to destructive embryonic stem-cell research; I don't consider embryos to be human persons. But I certainly don't demand that we kill embryos even when unnecessary! It seems a waste of a resource for creating more people in civilized, Western democracies -- and we're not exactly overstocked with people in the West. Even this country is barely meeting replacement fertility rate.

Besides destructive ESC, about which decent people may honestly differ, we shoudl fully fund at the federal level all other promising stem-cell research, including:

  • Adult stem cells.
  • Stem cells derived from "somatic cell de-differentiation." These are cells (not embryos) that have already differentiated and ceased being pluripotent (able to become any other type of cell); they can be reprogrammed to restore their "pluipotent" status.
  • Placental stem cells.
  • Uterine-fluid stem cells.
  • Embryonic stem cells obtained non-destructively (see the Big Lizards post linked above).
  • Stem cells from "organismically dead embryos." That is, cells taken (with parental consent) from human embryos that are already deceased for other reasons, typically the "irreversible cessation of cell division in the embryo observed in vitro." This would not include death by abortion, only the natural "organismic death" of the developing embryo (usually at the 4-cell or 8-cell stage), which often simply stops dividing by itself, without external intervention.
  • Stem cells derived from "biological artifacts." These are cells produced by "altered nuclear transfer" (ANT) so that they will function as stem cells, but could never develop into a complete human being, even if allowed to grow. It's similar in technique to cloning, but no human being is or could be produced.

    An example given in the white paper is a non-embryonic nucleus that is first modified to lack the genes for "cell to cell signalling" (which is vital to all living organisms), then transported into a non-embryonic cell whose own nucleus has been removed. Neither cell came from an embryo; and neither cell, nor the hybrid produced by ANT, could possibly grow into a human being.

Each of these techniques is as promising as, or more promising than destructive embryonic stem-cell research; but none involves killing a human embryo. Horrifyingly, I can think of no reason to believe that Obama is terminating funding to such research despite the fact that no embryos die; all roads seem to lead to him terminating such funding because of the fact that no embryos die.

One of many reasons I hope Barack H. Obama fails... to enact his various socialist schemes.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 9, 2009, at the time of 7:39 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Bart Johnson

Suppose some research being done and funded under EO 13435 lead to a big breakthrough.

The President does not want to take the chance that anything President Bush had support for lead to something good.

The above hissed in response by: Bart Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 9, 2009 9:41 PM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

I think you left out one possible explanation. That is, that his Messianic personal power-trip has made him truly evil. It's covered in some of your other explanations, but this would be an underlying explanation.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 10, 2009 6:54 AM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

I may have no problem with someone doing the research, but why do I have to pay for something I find ethically repugnant?

I love how Barry and the press have trumpeted this as a victory of science over belief. It is technically a victory of science over morality, and given the cancellation of research into other sources of stem cells, the triumph of belief over morality.


Does anyone else feel like this is...I dunno...another distraction?

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 10, 2009 11:57 AM

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