Monday, July 2, 2007

What "Ban" are they talking about? [Jay]

I had a meeting last week with the Chairperson of the Board of Directors at the CPC at which I am employed. As is often the case with people who run companies, she was unexpectedly detained. As I sat in the waiting room and read a magazine about Georgia business, I came across an article about Dr. Steve Stice at the University of Georgia. Dr. Stice is one of the worlds most respected and accomplished scientist in the field of biogenetic research including cloning and embryonic stem cell experimentation. He is working with the University in conjunction with his private company to develop, among many other things, the first line of commercial products to sell to other labs that helps multiply the stem cells that are extracted from embryos into the billions.

In the article (disclosure, I forgot the publication and have had no luck finding it on the internet) Dr. Stice discusses the challenges of raising money to do this research in a conservative state like Georgia and the desire of his donors to see tangible results. He is quoted as saying that although they, his research team, are very excited about what they are seeing in the lab, the people financing this research are starting to tap their toes and look at their watches awaiting actual usable treatments. His response is that these treatments may be five or possibly ten years away.

Here is my point. The hysteria over President Bush’s recent veto and the “ban” on embryonic stem cell research does not mesh with the story that I read. Dr. Stice is working at the flagship school in the University System of Georgia, receiving all of the support that he needs to work at the highest level in his field and produce a series of accomplishments that make him the envy of other scientists the world over. The article said that the University of Wisconsin (another state school) was actually trying to lure him a way with an incentive package that would convince him to move his research and his private company there. I have serious moral and ethical concerns about some of what this man does, but I fail to see how the current research restrictions have hindered his abilities or cost people lives. Even one of the most successful and brilliant researchers in this field is admitting that the actual therapeutic products of this research are, at best, years away. That admission comes from the man who has patented and is now marketing a process of multiplying stem cells to answer the “terrible problem” that these researchers face in a shortage of usable human embryonic stem cells.

What ban? Why are people dying as a result of the veto? How can those who continue to carry on with this ridiculous rhetorical hyperbole get so many unchallenged opportunities from the media to sell this nonsense? The most disturbing fact of all is that the truth behind the hysteria is not the potential cures, although I am certain that is what motivates people like Michael J. Fox. More and more the actual impetus behind all of this is being clearly expressed. New Jersey is borrowing $450 million; Wisconsin is attempting to lure Dr. Stice, California is pulling out all the stops, and the Democrats and Republicans both are fighting for their constituencies because no one wants to fall behind in the race for profitable patents. Other nations, other states, other people will make more money than us and be ahead of the curve in this brave new world of bioengineering. That is why it is impossible to stop and ask the ethical questions before we wade into this mess. It is not the sanctimonious desire to see all illnesses cured. The scientists and politicians are acting like rabid fans of The Who at a general admission concert. There are prime seats to be had and you simply do not have a moment to spare and find out what that is you are trampling on as you fight for front row seats at the greatest show this week.


  1. Jay,
    This part is really good....
    "How can those who continue to carry on with this ridiculous rhetorical hyperbole get so many unchallenged opportunities from the media to sell this nonsense? The most disturbing fact of all is that the truth behind the hysteria is not the potential cures, although I am certain that is what motivates people like Michael J. Fox.".
    This reminds me a little bit of the floor debates on the PBA Ban. Senator Boxer, an abortion rights advocate, repeated over and over how women will die if this ban becomes law. Statements largely unchallenged in the main stream press. She told the story of a woman from her state with 2 children who was expecting her third when she got the news that her baby would not live, so she had the abortion. Ms. Boxer went on to say that "....after talking with her doctor, her husband and her "god",... she decided not to risk leaving her 2 {born} children motherless.....". She went on to talk about this "life saving procedure" and how women would die from strokes and blood clots, or uterine ruptures, or even become quadraplegics if they could not have this abortion. I do not see any evidence of how not having this abortion has cost any woman her life, in spite of what the abortion advocates said, nor do I see evidence that the President's veto to fund this stem cell research has taken the life of any American citizen. People are not dying as a result of the veto, they are dying because they have an illness. Great post Jay, Lori V.

  2. Great post, Jay. You're right on point.

    Interestingly enough, I've had the opportunity to develop a relationship with Dr. Stice, and he is quite an interesting man. As of the last time we met, he does animal cloning and stem cell research on embryos approved by Bush and now embryos that come from fertility clinics that are "dead on arrival." (Embryos that have lost the ability to grow older, and doesn't have any of the signs of life.)

    A few interesting things about Stice: He is very uncomfortable with human cloning, mostly coming from a pragmatic standpoint. He told me that if cloning became the only way to cure people he'd be willing to take a second look at it. I also got the feeling that he is not entirely comfortable with the ethics of ESCR on leftover embryos from IVF clinics. We haven't yet discussed that issue at length since that's not what he's doing, but I have explained why I am against it, even reviewing "Trot out the Toddler" with him.

    Is Dr. Stice doing what he'd doing for money? I'm sure that's partially true. There is a lot of money to be made in that business and Dr. Stice has been quite the entrepreneur. I would hope that he also wants to see cures developed as well, and I think it's interesting to hear one of the ESCR scientists express discomfort over things like human cloning.

    On the contrary, there are really bad ESCR scientists out there. There was a jerk from Stanford that gave a lecture at UGA on SCR, and this man was deceitful, illogical and turned the audience against those "wacky religious fanatics that are against cures." He actually had the gall to say in front of a large audience of young scientists that no one knows when life begins! I couldn't believe my ears. After the lecture I walked up to him and asked him this: "Dr. Scott, you said you don't know when life begins. Did you mean you don't know when biological life begins, or that you don't know when a valuable person has begun philosophically?" He hesitated and said, "The second one." I told him that's good because I've never heard a credible scientist say that he doesn't know when biological life begins.

    This is the same guy that argues in favor of experimenting with chimera's, and this is his rule of thumb: Do whatever you want with mice, but when injecting human DNA into primates, be careful. He said we should go one step at a time until we see something that doesn't "look, quite, kosher." (his exact words.) Well, that's a great rule of thumb! Let's just keep going and trust scientists to stop after they've crossed a subjective line. Brilliant.

    This is why it is so important for us to take Peter Parker's fathers advice: "With great power, comes great responsibility." It is amazing the kinds of things we can do now with scientific technology. Thus, we should be more careful then ever that we don't cross ethical lines when using this new power.

  3. Josh,

    Thank you for the information on Dr. Stice. I have not met him and tried to be clear that I was not throwing him personally under the bus. Many scientists that I have met are earnest people trying their best to do their jobs. Competitive forces can be a great motivator, but when it comes to this area it works against us. The drive to get ahead of the curve often compels people to become reckless.

    I am always amazed at how little people appreciate the competition that exists in science and academics. The pressure to publish, the pressure to win grants and funding, and the pressure to produce results are all tremendously felt by those in these fields. I think some people are under the misconception that scientists are all working in one accord to produce results that benefit humanity. That is not the case. Some scientists are fine people with noble motivations, but no more or less than can be found in any field or profession.

    The tremendous external pressure is financially and compettively motivated. New Jersey wants to be a center for the bio boom, Georgia wants the profits from Dr. Stice's research as does Wisconsin, yada, yada, yada.

    Thanks for the additional insight.



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