The Religion of Stem Cells

A quick followup to the last post. William Saletan of Slate.com wrote a brilliant piece on the debate over stem cells, called Revelation of the Nerds--
The religion of stem-cell research
a few weeks back.

Saletan shows how the fairy tale of stem cells has become a full blown religious crusade, emphasizing "the power of will, hope, and belief in the absence of evidence" that stem cells will actual provide cures.

I've been pretty open about my doubts about stem cells, in this blog and in a recent commentary for Sojourners, and my frustration that it's being covered as a Galileo like conflict--about religion standing in the way of progress, without any one asking hard questions about the research--like how much will it cost, and what are the chances it will work.

As Saletan point out, something dramatic has changed. Stem cells has become religion, and is being sold using the techniques of faith healers and televangelists -- have faith, believe in miracles, and trust us with billions of dollars and your votes. Never mind the evidence, or lack thereof--believe and expect a miracle.

That's not good, enough, says Saletan, in reponse to a Kerry speech on stem cells.

I want to have faith, John. I want to hope and dream. I want to believe in the magic and the miracles and the power of prayer. But if you want to preserve trust in science, stick to the evidence.


Boston Globe and Bioethics

I'm a big fan of the Boston Globe , but today's story "President Bush's bioethics panel has little influence" .

According to the piece, the council has become "an afterthought," having "little impact on public debate and virtually no discernable influence on Congress or its creator, President George W. Bush."

Here's a bit from one of the council's critics:

''I don't see them as having accomplished much. They issued some reports, most of which turned out to be post facto justifications for the president on stem cells and cloning," said University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur L. Caplan. ''They haven't had anything to say about Americans lacking health insurance, research in the Third World, drug pricing. They've been off solely in esoterica."

Given growing importance of stem cell research, which looks more and more like < the swing issue of this campaign Caplan's comment is inane.

The article's basic conclusion is this--the president already made up his mind on bioethics issues, and used the council for cover. This plays into theme being pounded by the Kerry campaign these days--that Bush is religious fanatic standing in the way of scientific progress.

But a look into the council's recent reporton assisted reproduction, genetic screening, and human embryo research shows a different picture. The council, rather than taking ideological stands, slowly worked its way through the gray areas involved in emerging biotechnologies.

Those who think the council has no influence might want to look at the reaction of Resolve, a national infertility support group that fought tooth and claw against any legislation, which the council initially recommended, that would limit access assisted reproductive technology like IVF (a billion dollar industry with no federal regulation.)

The most compelling line in story is this quote from Kass:

''I think the president appears to be a religious man. . . . Most scientists hold a kind of Enlightenment view that religion is superstition and any man who's seriously religious is by definition a fool."


Powered by Blogger