European Union may follow suit
In a message to the House of Representatives on Wednesday of last week, U.S. President George W. Bush blocked legislation that would provide increased federal funding for research using embryonic stem (ES) cells. It is the first veto Bush has cast since taking office five-and-a-half years ago.
At the European Union (EU) headquarters in Brussels, attempts will today be made to prevent any of the EU’s £37 billion science budget from being used to fund ES cell research. Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Malta, Luxembourg, Austria and Lithuania are all opposed to to the provision of central EU funding for ES cell research, and between them have enough votes to block public funding for such work.
Stephen Hawking, who criticized Bush’s decision, urges the EU “not follow the reactionary lead of President Bush.” Hawking suffers from Motor Neuron Disease, one of the many conditions which could potentially be treated using stem cell therapy.
According to opinion polls, the majority of the American public supports expanding federal funding for ES cell research, and Bush’s decision has drawn criticism from many angles, with the scientific community being particularly vocal.
Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research, says that Bush’s decision shows “how out of touch [the president] is with rational thinking on this issue,” and Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, has commented that Bush’s veto of the bill is “slowing down the global effort to develop therapies for a range of diseases and illnesses.”
The moral reasoning on which President Bush has based his decision is very dubious. Bush defends the decision because the bill “would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others.” This is wrong – ES cells used for research are taken from unused embryos created by in vitro fertilization, which would die anyway. Furthermore, privately-funded ES cell research is being carried across the U.S; why isn’t Bush also opposed to this?
The restrictions on ES cell research will leave American biomedical research institutions lagging behind those of other countries in the race to develop stem cell therapies. Bush’s decision could also lead to a brain drain of U.S. scientists, who may be tempted to move abroad, to countries such as Singapore, where laws on the use of ES cells are not as stringent. Bush’s decision may therefore jeapordize the position of the U.S. as the world leader in scientific research.
Bush’s decision is likely to be applauded by evangelical and Catholic religious conservatives, who were instrumental in his re-election in 2004, and whose continued support is crucial at a time when the President’s approval rating is at an all-time low because of the war in Iraq.
There’s a nice post at Biosingularity about the discovery by Duke University scientists of how to grow new stem cells.
The New Yorker ran an article by Michael Specter about the Bush administration’s war on science in March.