Reading more in the question than the subject

I noticed a poll question on Sen. Bill Frist’s new medical/health blog, Medical Matters. Behold:

Do you support S 2754, legislation which supports research to produce pluripotent cells without destroying human embryos?


I’m trying to determine if that question is intentionally or unintentionally misleading. I support the talking point aspect of this debate, which is stem cell research. It’s stupid to pretend like every cell ever created that could be a human will be a human. Restricting science from exploring stem cells is anti-progress that will harm people who exist while protecting people who never will. If that was S 2754, sure, I’ll take Yes please.

But if it’s the two specific aspects of S 2754, I must say No. Federal funding would be better spent on legitimately federal tasks. I have little doubt that private companies, as well as research organizations and universities (I’m ignoring the public funding for simplicity), will do the necessary research to uncover whatever potential stem cells hold. All they need is for the government to get out of the way. It’s almost a broken record.

That plays into point number two¹, which is that “destroying human embryos” will encourage politicians to pummel any scientific research that doesn’t meet their agenda. In this case, it’s the fundamentalist Christian ideal that life begins at conception, even when the cells involved could never be a human. After all, S 2754’s sponsor is Sen. Rick Santorum. I’m sure he expects “destroying human embryos” to be interpreted in a particular manner, which may or may not be grounded in science. Science should remain rooted in evidence-based discovery, not political expediency.

In a shameful yet unsurprising probability, President Bush threatened to veto this bill. That would be his first veto in his 5½ years in the Oval Office. Correct decision, wrong reason. I guess by now I should expect that the good things in this administration are mere accidents of circumstance. So be it.

¹ Please read the comments for a better discussion of point number two.

2 thoughts on “Reading more in the question than the subject”

  1. If the poll question is misleading, then it is surely unintentional. I should know….I wrote the question.
    I understand your first objection….although I have to say that your standard is sweeping enough to prohibit the vast majority of federal funding for scientific research.
    I do not understand the second objection, however. S. 2754 would promote research on how we might be able to “reprogram” adult stem cells to the state of pluripotency. Such manipulation of adult stem cells would not involve embryos at all….so I’m not sure how anyone could interpret it otherwise. Moreover, S. 2754 does not prohibit funding for embryonic stem cell research, research which does require the destruction of embryos that would otherwise be discarded. If S. 2754 did prohibit funding for such research, then the 63 proponents of increased funding for embryonic stem cell research in the Senate (those who voted for H.R. 810) would surely object to S. 2754. But S. 2754 passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday.
    Simply put, S. 2754 and H.R. 810 promote two distinct modes of research with one common goal….to harness the power of pluripotent human cells for future medical advances. Senator Frist supports both bills.
    In any case, thanks for the link!

  2. I didn’t make it clear in my post, which I should have done. I thought the question was unintentionally misleading. I was playing with its assumptions on federal funding, which I think are clearly there. I apologize for that oversight in my editorializing.
    As for my first objection, prohibiting the vast majority of federal funding for scientific research, you offer a fair summary. I don’t think federal funding is necessary to conduct research. It will happen without public assistance. Federal funding also opens science to the political game. Simply stated, he who pays gets to decide. We’ve seen that enough in other venues recently, and I don’t think this bill, with its specifics, does anything to contradict that notion. (Granted, simply stopping, as opposed to ramping down, federal funding is probably not wise.)
    Regarding your response to my second objection, it’s possible, probable even, that I don’t fully understand the subject and where this bill falls within the discussion. I lamented how to address it, and decided on my what I thought I understood. Overall, I probably succumbed to reacting to talking points instead of specifics. That’s no excuse, and I’m sure I’ll work harder to avoid it in the future.
    What I think your explanation states is that the difference between my understanding and the bill itself is the difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. If that’s a fair summary, you’re right not to understand my objection, since it would be misinformed. I don’t think anyone should object to adult stem cell research, as you explain.
    I still stand by my more general objection in the debate of federal funding for scientifc research. Political agendas set the direction. In the discussion of stem cells, the potential embryonic approach pits religion against science. I’m firmly in the pro-science camp, though only because it’s evidence-based and verifiable. I have no beef with the religious arguments. It’s just not the government’s business. That gets lost, I think.
    Thanks for the clarifications, though. I think MedicalMatters will be useful, based on my brief visit yesterday. Any openness and honesty Sen. Frist can add to the debate will be beneficial.

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