Friday, November 28, 2003

Ideology and science (I)

An editorial in today's Palm Beach Post is a reaction to an article I missed from the Nov. 21 Wall Street Journal. Here's a snippet from the Journal article by Antonio Regaldo:
Advocates for infertile couples have raised alarms over draft documents released by President Bush's Council on Bioethics that recommend sweeping changes in the way assisted reproduction is regulated in the U.S.

The draft recommendations, quietly posted to the council's Web site last month, call on the federal government to track and monitor embryos created for fertility purposes. They call for far-reaching legislation that would curtail embryo research and some common business practices. One proposal called for banning the sale of human eggs and sperm, a common practice in the U.S., though transcripts of the council's October meeting indicate that proposal has been withdrawn.

"The recommendations and legislation could change the face of reproductive medicine in this country," said Pamela Madsen, executive director of the American Infertility Association, an advocacy group in New York.

A final report from the ethics panel, formed by President Bush in 2001 following the divisive stem-cell debate, won't be released until next year. Council staff said the drafts are discussion documents and subject to change.

But critics and even some members of the 17-person council said the drafts signaled an ongoing effort by conservative members of the council to create new protections for human embryos created in fertility laboratories.
Here is the Palm Beach paper's reaction in an editorial entitled, "Find a Cure for Ideology":
President Bush's Council on Bioethics is reviving attempts to ban therapeutic cloning for research -- and this time, patients suffering from debilitating diseases and scientists seeking cures for them wouldn't be the only potential victims. In its latest inappropriate invocation of ideology, the president is using his panel to urge Congress to assign legal rights to human embryos. Not only would such unnecessary legislation disrupt research toward cures for Parkinson's, diabetes and other widespread diseases, the action would make it harder for infertile couples to conceive.

Referring to the embryos as "children-to-be," the panel's draft recommendations -- reported in The Wall Street Journal -- call for the federal government to track the creation, use and disposition of embryos. The panel suggests a ban on using an 11-day-old or older embryo for research, restrictions on surrogate mothers and limits on the reason a woman could get pregnant by in vitro fertilization. Would enforcement require parents to declare that they plan to "produce a live-born child"? How does such a requirement fit the panel's claim that it wants to protect women "against certain exploitative and degrading practices"?

According to a study by the Rand Corp. and the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology, nearly 90 percent of the 396,526 embryos in storage throughout the United States as of April 2002 were designated for future family-building by the patients who created them. Fewer than 3 percent -- 11,000 -- are available for donation for research. Those that are were designated, correctly, by the parents, not the government.

Two years ago, President Bush approved spending federal money on embryonic stem-cell research but set limits on the study. The cell lines he approved for federally financed research were initially grown on mouse cells -- which, a medical ethics panel formed by Johns Hopkins University said this month, could expose humans to an animal virus their immune systems could not fight. Safer stem-cell lines, the panel said, now exist but aren't eligible for federal financing. The president would rather allow ideological debates to halt progress.

Twenty-five years after the birth of the first "test-tube baby," Congress should not let the president and his advisers distract from the quest for life-saving discoveries.
The draft recommendations come in a staff working paper entitled "Biotechnology and Public Policy: Biotechnologies Touching the Beginnings of Human Life/Defending the Dignity of Human Procreation."
posted by tommayo, 8:05 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter