Here's a place for those of you who are so inclined to comment on the Obama administration's new policy on stem cells. That is to say, the latest tilt in the Kulturkampf see-saw. Republicans get in charge, it tilts one way. Democrats get in charge, it tilts the other. And so it continues, even in the "post-partisan" era.
I don't know what to say about it myself because … I don't know; I guess I haven't thought about it enough or something. The partisans seem REALLY sure of their sides, and personally, I don't know how they can be. But maybe it's something missing in me.
I suppose I was relatively comfortable with the Bush position because, near as I could tell, it was a compromise. But then, if I'm reading correctly, the Obama position is ALSO to some extent a compromise, because some restrictions will remain. And yet it is touted as a total reversal, which perhaps it is. I find it confusing.
It's not something we have a position on as an editorial board, because on these culture war things we are often genuinely conflicted. Many editorial boards are quick to sound off on these things because they are more ideologically homogeneous than we are. For us, it's not so simple, and we generally prefer to use up our political capital with each other struggling over the very difficult issues facing South Carolina, which are tough enough.
Anyway, if you read the editorials of most newspapers on the subject, you might think that there is no controversy at all, that the Obama position is of course the right and true one, and you need to be awfully backward to think otherwise — nothing short of a triumph of science over the forces of darkness. Some examples:
- The New York Times: "We welcome President Obama’s decision to lift the Bush administration’s restrictions on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research. His move ends a long, bleak period in which the moral objections of religious conservatives were allowed to constrain the progress of a medically important science."
- The Boston Globe: "We applaud President Obama's executive order reversing the ban on
federal stem-cell research, and the return of science unhobbled by
political or religious considerations." (Actually, that quote is not from the editorial itself, but from the blurb summarizing it online.)
- The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Americans are understandably divided over President Obama's decision to lift restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research. But he took the course that promises the greater medical benefit. In reversing a funding ban imposed by President Bush, Obama yesterday also took a welcome step toward restoring the rightful place of scientific research in guiding public policy."
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Federal funding is no guarantee that embryonic stem cell research will provide hoped-for cures to dreaded diseases like diabetes, let alone guarantee that any cures might come soon. But the executive order that Mr. Obama signed on Monday will clear away bureaucratic and procedural hurdles that have hampered that research. It provides an important new source of funding. Perhaps most important, it signals a new commitment to science ideals, free inquiry and open debate in American public policy."
The relatively "conservative" Chicago Tribune was more muted in its praise and even-handed in its presentation, but nevertheless expressed approval for the Obama move, saying the Bush policy had been too restrictive:
Sensible barriers to federal funding for cloning and the creation of embryos for research purposes remain in place. On Monday, Obama asked lawmakers to provide the support that will put the country at the forefront of vital stem cell research. It's now up to Congress to get behind the scientists. All Obama did was get out of their way.
And The Wall Street Journal? No editorial. But they did run an op-ed piece criticizing the new policy, headlined, "The President Politicizes Stem-Cell Research," with the subhead, "Taxpayers have a right to be left out of it."
That last point is one that one doesn't see emphasized enough, which is that this is not about whether research is allowed, but whether we the taxpayers will pay for it. And that's a legitimate conversation to have.
Another point that I would appreciate being updated on, and that seems to get ignored in the shouting matches, is the idea that the science has made the political argument moot, in terms of moving beyond the need for embryonic cells. That was the point made in this Krauthammer column a while back:
A decade ago, Thomson was the first to isolate human embryonic stem cells. Last week, he (and Japan's Shinya Yamanaka) announced one of the great scientific breakthroughs since the discovery of DNA: an embryo-free way to produce genetically matched stem cells.
Even a scientist who cares not a whit about the morality of embryo destruction will adopt this technique because it is so simple and powerful. The embryonic stem cell debate is over.
Was that wishful thinking on Krauthammer's part? Did that turn out to be a dead-end? Maybe some of you who follow the issue more closely than I do can point to something I should read to that effect.
Anyway, I'll be interested to see what Krauthammer says about it, if he addresses it. He has an interesting perspective for someone wearing the "conservative" stamp. First, to my knowledge he's not anti-abortion. Also, he is a physician by training, and he served on the Bush administration's Council on Bioethics, which HE maintains (and I'm sure some of you will disagree, although I just don't know) was…
… one of the most ideologically balanced bioethics commissions in the
history of this country. It consisted of scientists, ethicists,
theologians, philosophers, physicians — and others (James Q. Wilson,
Francis Fukuyama and me among them) of a secular bent not committed to
one school or the other.
Anyway, that ought to be enough fodder to get y'all started, if you want to discuss this.