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July 29, 2005

Frist v Embryos

Back here I noted that adult stem cells keep looking better and better, being virtually as good as embryonic stem cells, not to mention their proven track record. Well, looks like Bill Frist hasn't read that study.

Breaking with President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Friday he now supports legislation to remove some of the administration's limitations on embryonic stem cell research.

Frist, an abortion opponent who just last month said he did not support expanding federal financing of research on embryos, said his decision was consistent with both his experience as a physician and his anti-abortion stance.

The crux of his argument appears to be this:

The Tennessee Republican, who has been said to be eyeing a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, said only stem cells from embryos that "would otherwise be discarded," not implanted in a woman or frozen indefinitely, should be considered for research.

First of all, never say "never". As I pointed out in a diary on (in the first set of comments), saying "never" amounts to predicting the future, which is not a power I typically want to give to the federal government. Ask these 21 children who were adopted as embryos.

Second, this amounts to human experimentation. If you don't consider these embryos truly "human", then what are they? They certainly aren't fish eggs. And further, if they weren't human, the scientists wouldn't want them.

I don't see how someone who is against abortion can be for human experimentation on embryos. The whole "would otherwise be discarded" argument is morally equivalent to a woman getting an abortion because she didn't want to have a baby right now.

"I give huge moral significance to the human embryo, it is nascent human life, what that means is as we advance science, we treat that embryo with dignity, with respect," Frist said.

And performing experiments on them is...what, exactly?
Frist said additional stem cells should be used, so long as there was a careful process of informed consent in which the parents had decided that the embryos should be discarded, not adopted or frozen.

Ah, so "aborting" them is OK as long as the proper government paperwork is fill out. Gotcha. Now that's "respect".

Posted by Doug at July 29, 2005 01:43 PM

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» Frist Supports Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Pulls a Kerry from ProLifeBlogs
Despite being an ardent supporter of abortion and voting against a ban on partial-birth abortion, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) claimed to be pro-life during his 2004 presidential bid. On January 25, 2004 he told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday,... [Read More]

Tracked on July 29, 2005 03:07 PM

» Senator Frist’s Stem Cell Flip-Flop from The Unalienable Right
Senator Bill Frist, Republican majority leader, came out today in support of modifying the current policy, favored by the president, regarding embryonic stem cell research. The new bill, already passed in the House, would allow research on existing em... [Read More]

Tracked on July 29, 2005 04:47 PM

» Frist Thinking Too Much. Politics v. Principle: Politics Wins. from Opinion Times
In the realm of vacuuous reasoning, hollow arguments become sensible. Such is the case when it comes to embryonic stem cell research, and Bill Frist is feeling rather “sensible” these days.The New York Times reports that Senate Majority L... [Read More]

Tracked on July 31, 2005 10:03 PM


Although I am no fan of Bill Frist, it is not right to accuse him of failing to read a study you cite when you have not read that study yourself. In fact, what you have read is a web posting by an opponent of embryonic stem cell research that focuses on a single study of adult stem cells. In that study (i.e. the original research), the authors reveal something you do not, presumably because you didnt read the study. That is, the adult stem cells they use have cancerous properties at high copy number. Furthermore, that study focuses on one type of adult stem cell out of hundreds of cell types in the human body. The authors of that study do not claim as you erroneously do that people can extrapolate their results to assert that all adult stem cells are viable substitutes for embryonic stem (ES) cells.

Furthermore, your analogy between abortion and ES cell usage makes no sense. The embryos that some scientists want to use to study the potential of ES cells to fight currently incurable diseases will be destroyed if they are not used. It is that simple. These are not lives wasted. Nobody is asking for the hundreds of thousands of excess embryos to be diverted from being implanted in women's wombs. I repeat: those excess embryos will not be saved. They will be destroyed. If you are pro-life then you should not deny terminally ill people the chance of continued life because you think embryonic tissue should be discarded rather than used for medical research, because that is what will happen if those embryos are not used. There are far more frozen embryos than people available, let alone willing, for implantation - unless you can mount a campaign for approximately four hundred thousand women to volunteer to be implanted.

You also equate research on embryos with human experimentation. I do not agree that tissue devoid of any semblance of organs (or even structure) is equivalent to a human being, though I understand that others disagree. What is indisputable is that use of these human cells does not cross a line that has not been crossed by the majority of health scientists already in ways that have been condoned by bioethicists and the National Institutes of Health for many years. This involves the use of immortalized human cell lines for a tremendous variety of studies. Therefore, cells can be derived from humans and yet their use in research in no way constitutes experimentation on humans.

It is understandable that the public should express concern about the ethics of applied science. This is a good thing. And it is a testament to the strength of science that science welcomes criticism from within and from without. Scientific progress is based on fact and deliberation. It should not be based on politics and a campaign to misinform or scare a public that is often undereducated about science beginning in grade school and continuing through adulthood.

If you object to research on embryonic stem cells, scientists (like myself) welcome your criticism. In the future, however, please base your criticisms on real facts and not what you imagine the facts to be based on your religious preconceptions.

Posted by: dem at July 31, 2005 12:16 PM

First off, I’m guilty as charged with regards to not reading the study myself. However, I would correct you in that this wasn’t just a "web posting" about the study; it was a news article. I make the distinction because –this- is a web posting, whereas presumably a news article carries a little more weight to it. I have my issues with journalists with big media, true, but to characterize what I quoted as simply a "web posting" is to attempt to hand-wave it away completely.

Further, I in no way suggested that adult stem cells are equal to embryonic stem cells. I did note, however, that the viability of adult stem cells as a substitute keeps looking better and better as we learn more. And given the dozens of success stories using adult stem cells for all sorts of diseases, it seems one would want to avoid all the ethical issues if at all possible and go down a path with a proven track record.

(See for a summary of those successes, or for a more extensive list. This may not be as extensive list as is *hoped* for embryonic stem cells, but it’s a whale of a start. People who push for embryonic research rarely acknowledge this. For example, I don’t recall your mentioning of it.)

The creation of embryos in such excesses that most are guaranteed not to be wanted is something to be considered as well. I think it’s a waste to create life in such excess only to toss it out when it’s not wanted anymore. Giving folks the excuse, "Well, at least it’ll be used in research" would create –more- of this unwanted life. I’m pro-life partially because I don’t see this waste as moral or ethical.

As to current experiment on human cells, I’d make a distinction between embryos (which, if properly housed and cared for, will be born as babies) and other cells (which, if properly housed and cared for, will never be anything else). I don’t know what kind of cells you’re referring to that bioethicists and the NIH are talking about. Nonetheless, that other folks, who may or may not have the same ethics and morals I do, think it’s OK doesn’t really speak to my personal issue with this. "Everybody else says it’s OK" isn’t much of an argument.

These are human embryos and they’re being experimented on. That’s human experimentation, almost by definition. Again, if they weren’t human, the biologists wouldn’t want them. It doesn’t take religion to see that. (But it helps. >grin

Posted by: Doug Payton at July 31, 2005 03:05 PM

Doug, I'll try to address some of your points.

1) Your "news article" advertises Christian books and reviews others by James Dobson, Roy Moore and Phyllis Schlaffley. It has an article entitled "8 billion Christians in World by 2032 - Learn about miracle-fueled growth of faith". It has links entitled, "Christian doctors condemn stem-cell experiments", "Reeve doubted embryonic stem-cell research", and "Scientists in stem-cell cover-up". Its columnists include Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. Other columnists slam former President Carter, promote the Minutemen vigilantes, rip on the ACLU and accuse former President Clinton of genocide. No offense, but it seems to me that your source of news is propaganda. Its "articles" on stem cells carry little weight as such, especially when contradicted by non-partisan sources of information.

2) In fact, you DID "suggest that adult stem cells are equal to embryonic stem cells." In your earlier post you said, "adult stem cells keep looking better and better, being virtually as good as embryonic stem cells".' Virtually as good' is pretty synonymous with 'equal to'.

3) Dozens of diseases have not in fact been cured by adult stem cells. There are some promising results, but Prentice's claims of "success" should be translated as "some experimental progress". Most of his so-called "successes" are by no means cures. For example, there are no cures for multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. Prentice, by the way, is the author of both summaries of adult stem cell successes to which you refer. And 80 Nobel laureates disagree with his - and your - view that adult stem cells should be studied at the expense of embryonic stem cells. These 80 Nobel laureates wrote a collective letter urging President Bush to support research on embryonic stem cells because they believe the potential of adult stem cells is limited:¬Found=true

4) You advocate creating fewer embryos, but in vitro fertilization requires making excess embryos because the probability of success is so low. If you oppose making extra embryos, you must oppose in vitro fertilization. If so, then you would deny tens of thousands of infertile couples the option of having children.

5) I agree with your statement that it is a waste to create life and destroy it. However, blastocysts from which ES cells are derived do not manifest most of the properties that we associate with humanity. They are not even fetuses. They have no brain, heart or blood, and with no nerve cells they are incapable of feeling pain or suffering. Thus, your argument - that experimenting on human embryos is equivalent to human experimentation - is incorrect by my reasoning. If you disregard my argument and stick to the belief that humanness begins at conception, then we will have to agree to disagree, because I just don't know how to reconcile our differences over that point.

As a last point, which you don't bring up but often arises in such debates, keep in mind the following. While research has been conducted on adult stem cells since early in the 20th century, human embryonic stem cells were first isolated only in 1998. Thus, the common criticism that adult stem cells have shown more success than embryonic stem cells involves an unreasonable comparison. Given some more time, the vast majority of health scientists believe that ES cells will offer tremendous opportunities to aid in the treatment of currently incurable diseases and suffering.

Posted by: dem at August 3, 2005 01:39 AM