October 5, 2004

Caplan: Stem-cell research a pawn in election politics

The more I read Art Caplan's work the more I like him.

His recent OpEd, "Stem-cell research a pawn in election politics," is an excellent critique of Bush's confused and misguided stem cell policy. Bush's policy, says Caplan, makes a mockery of the moral issues involved:
Not only is the president’s compromise nothing of the sort, his moral reasoning, and that of his defenders, is at best obtuse. Consider these points:

* The president says that embryo destruction is wrong, but still allows research on embryos destroyed before August 2001. Huh?

* The president says that embryo destruction is wrong, but does absolutely nothing to prevent the daily destruction of embryos in fertility clinics across the United States. What?

* The president says that embryo destruction is wrong, but fails to tell us whether he really believes that an embryo destined to be destroyed at a fertility clinic but now residing in a Petri dish is morally on par with a child suffering from juvenile diabetes or a person who cannot walk due to a spinal-cord injury. Huh?

* And the president says that embryo destruction is wrong, but does not tell us what he proposes to do about American scientists heading overseas to conduct embryonic stem-cell research in South Korea, Britain, China or Singapore, and then publishing the results in American journals and seeking American patents. Why?

Furthermore, consider Bush's position on cloning for stem-cell research. Using the techniques involved in creating Dolly the sheep, it is possible to create cloned human embryos for use as a source of embryonic stem cells. But the president has done nothing but vigorously try to ban this method for getting stem cells. While it otherwise has little time for the United Nations, the Bush administration is currently devoting much energy to trying to persuade the world body to ban cloning for the purposes of stem-cell research.
Caplan concludes by arguing that the Bush administration has painted themselves into a corner:
So what is really going on here? What's going on is that the president’s defenders are in a political pickle that they themselves created.

Bush believes that human life and human rights begin at conception even if conception occurs in a Petri dish. The president and his operatives know that their core base of supporters fervently opposes all forms of abortion and agrees that embryos are people from the moment of conception. They also know that the vast majority of American people do not agree with these views.

So, the Bush administration made a political calculation to use opposition to stem-cell research and cloning as a low-risk stalking horse to advance its anti-abortion agenda and secure support among its most avid anti-abortion constituents.
Interestingly, Caplan ends the piece with a moderately partisan outro in which he says, "Whatever your views about the upcoming presidential election, have no doubt about where the candidates stand on this issue — Bush is opposed to stem-cell research, Sen. John Kerry is not."

Hmmmm. I wonder if he has his sights set on the Chair position for the President's Council on Bioethics. Even from here in Canada, I'd love to see Caplan replace Leon Kass. We can only hope.

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