Monday, February 26, 2007

Dead end issue for GOP

The stars are aligning for Illinois tax dollars to support embryonic stem cell research. The bill (SB1336), sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston,) calls for $25 million to be dolled out and includes a provision banning human cloning. Last week the Senate, which had killed similar measures in the past, approved the bill with a comfortable 35-24 vote.

The House now takes the reigns and will likely send it to the Governor who will almost assuredly sign the legislation. Just last year Blagojevich skirted state restrictions by using his executive power to create the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute, which awarded $15 million in a variety of stem cell research grants.

All of this keeps the state in line with the current nationwide trend, starting with the always prophetic California:

California's stem cell agency on Friday doled out nearly $45 million in research grants to about 20 state universities and nonprofit research laboratories, far exceeding the federal government's spending on the controversial work….

California voters in 2004 passed Proposition 71 to create the institute and give it authority to borrow and spend $3 billion for the research….

Next month, another round of 25 grants worth about $80 million will go to established stem cell scientists.

Four other states have also skirted federal restrictions with stem cell research funding schemes of their own: Connecticut has a 10-year, $100 million initiative; Illinois spent $10 million last year; Maryland has approved a $15 million budget; and New Jersey has spent about $25 million in two years.

Our northwestern neighbor also tagged along last week:

A controversial bill easing restrictions on the research of embryonic stem cells obtained through cloning is headed to Gov. Chet Culver's desk after being approved in the Iowa House Thursday night….

Culver, a Democrat, argues Iowa's current law leaves the state at a competitive disadvantage, while Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri moved ahead with research facilities. Culver has called for lawmakers to approve $12.5 million to create Iowa's Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Iowa.

This makes me wonder how some in the Illinois GOP, already in sinking circumstances, can afford to politically stonewall on the issue. Sen. Chris Lauzen epitomizes the rhetoric of those in opposition:

"Obviously we all want cures to diseases. The question is, what are willing to sacrifice to get them?" said Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora. "The unique identity of an individual human being disappears for eternity."

But his Republican colleague, Sen. Kirk Dillard who voted in favor of the legislation offers the pragmatic logic that conservatives can use as an out:

"They go into the public sewer system. I really believe my maker would want me to use these embryos to sustain and improve human life," he said.

As Dillard makes clear, in almost all cases the “individual human being” will be “lost for all eternity” with or without this legislation. A "No" vote will not change that. Most reasonable Illinois voters can make this distinction, leading to the very strong public opinion supporting the research.

Republican legislators in select areas may spark some local displeasure among the most faithful by supporting of this type of bill, but it certainly wouldn’t be the end all. Even then, I'd imagine that the political damage could be partially neutralized by appealing to the sympathetic stories of human suffering. Michael J. Fox can be persuasive.

But more important than individual legislators, further opposition to stem cell research politically damages the State Republican Party. No matter how it is spun, the party loses by staying the course. Nevermind the distinction between embyonic and adult stem cells. The public won't process the nuance, and the political damage will still be done.

No one knows how to right the sinking GOP ship in the state….

But it is clear what wont:

Drifting further to the ideological right on a social issue that runs counter the vast majority of Illinoisans, is against the national tide, and has a pragmatic “out” to appease most moderate conservatives.

The state GOP can't afford to stay on the wrong side of this one.


Anonymous,  1:03 PM  

Great idea, stop opposing something just because everyone else likes it. I'm for this issue, but I admire those who are against it for sticking to their guns.

Guess we just have a different appreciation for people's ability to back up their positions.

Anyway, thanks for the lame post.

dan l 1:14 PM  

Nooooo that's not quite how I see it.

Why is it this joint is constantly victimized by Anonymous Drive By JerkBag?

You know, I think the problem with the "standing up for what they believe in" problem is a bit myopic in the sense that ultimately you're picking the losing side of the issue and making another example of how Social Cons are not compatable with modern Illinois thus showing center voters that they shouldn't be voting for republicans in statewide elections.

In other words Anonymous, you're asking ILGOP to continue losing in favor of just being a tiny little voice of grabasstic opposition.

If ILGOP wants to maintain it's pro-life stance on principle - fine. I'm not going to beef with it. There's enough public support to go along with it. But making fake issues out of stem cell research is, like Paul says, a dead end issue.

That's the flaw. The only way the GOP returns to having something resembling power in this state is to drop these social issues to the back burner or take them off the menu all together.

Bill Baar 1:29 PM  

It shouldn't and isn't a partisan issue. Look at Cong Lipinski's postion. Some Democrats try and pretend it is and use it as a club against the GOP as a party dominated by the religious right.

It's going to take people a while to understand this issue but I think ultimately, the commercialization of human embryos for therapies is going to be recognized as unethical and immoral.

NW burbs,  1:53 PM  

The only frozen embryos in discussion (as Richardson alludes by quoting the state senators) are those which are scheduled to be destroyed anyway as IVF facilities clean out their freezers.

In addition to that, modern IVF clinics routinely require consent forms to be filled out which ask donors whether or not they would want their material to be made available for research.

The social conservatives (whether Republican like Lauzen or Democratic like Lipinski) are proving themselves hypocritical on this issue -- which is what causes the political damage.

If these folks were truly "sticking to their guns", Anonymous, they would've been demanding an end to the practice of cleaning out the freezers for nearly 3 decades; but they haven't, have they?

And yes, there are several options for reducing the number of embryos scheduled to be destroyed in freezer cleaning. At the start of IVF, making less embryos or not even freezing the 'leftovers' will both help but doctors don't like that because it gives them fewer options. On the end of the storage process, significantly increasing the number of "snowflake" adoptions (there are barely dozens now, the numbers needed are in the thousands) or providing a source of infinite funding for infinite storage would also both help.

Science got out way ahead of legislation with regards to in-vitro fertilization.

But now, social conservatives are attempting to rally their base over a technical point when they really should have been fighting the bigger picture all along (if they truly cared, that is).

The current social conservative whining about research and therapeutic cloning (VERY different from reproductive cloning, though the initial processes are the same) is disingenuine at best.

JB Powers 1:55 PM  

How about as an economic issue? The State is taking money from pension funds and schools to invest in research that no bank nor venture fund will touch.

The technology has about a 50 year time frame for any breakthrough, yet to demonize the pro-life movement as "anti-science" the left have trumped up this issue as somehow showing the progressive nature of their politicians.

Why not let scientists decide what to research, rather than Jeff Schoenberg and Gov Blagjevich?


Bill Baar 2:10 PM  

We can sue a fertility clinic for wrongful death of an embryo in Cook County and the State is going to go ahead and fund research on embryoes.

Our law and lawmakers don't quite have their acts together on this one.

Bill Baar 2:17 PM  

A sure sign this won't go away is right here...

...ask donors whether or not they would want their material to be made available for research...

The material are embryos and the question is are embryos people.

You know supporters of embroyonic research feel on thin ice if they have to frame embryos as material.

Anonymous,  2:59 PM  

To the embryo lovers out there, a question:

If a research facility was burning, would you rather that the fire department rush in to save the embryos first or the adults?

Bill Baar 3:29 PM  

That's an exercise in triage anon. It's acceptable to triage lives if you can't save them all.

I've known firefighters to risk their lives for pets for that matter.

It's far different ethical question though than destroying life to develop clinical therapies for use by another.

Considering the commercialism in this, and the liability facilities may face with the wrongful death liability in Cook County... my guess is management will rush in a save the embryos first and leave the workers to the flames.

They'd be worth more too maybe. Workmen's comp would set the rates for the employees.

NW burbs,  3:48 PM  

JB Powers,

Government is getting involved in funding the research precisely because of the ROI time-frame you mention.

Scientists are quite willing to do the work -- they just haven't had the money available.


Bill and others,

You want to pee on fire hydrants about semantics now? Call it whatever you want -- material, donations, frozen embryos, "tiniest humans"... We all know what it means.

It's the stuff that gets thrown out in the biohazard trash when IVF storage facilities clean out their freezers because they can't keep storing material/donations/frozen embryos/tiniest humans/stuff indefinitely for people who have long since disappeared and haven't bothered paying their storage bills in years.

If the social conservatives actually cared about the material/donations/frozen embryos/tiniest humans/stuff then they would've been jumping up and down shouting against those garbage cans for the past 30+ years, long before they ever turned the subject of potentially life-saving medical research possibilities into an issue for raising money from their impressionable base.

The fact they haven't is indicative of their hypocrisy. Apparently wasting away in a garbage can and biohazard incenerator are somehow more "dignified" than potentially life-saving research to social conservatives. Strange.

Bill Baar 4:18 PM  

I admit to being a recent convert to opposing this. It was Ron Reagan's kids speech at the dem convention that first got me wondering.

My friends mom had a treatment using embryos many years ago and they were very guarded talking about it because there Church was opposed way back then.

The morality on this is clear and well established.

If embryos are people. If they carry the same moral status as you or I NW, then this a clear violation of any research ethics.

Whether embryos have been destroyed in whatever numbers with whatever silence or indifference by anyone, doesn't mean a thing....

...and for me... it has little bearing on abortion either...

I can no more ask a woman to risk death to bear child, then I can ask an embryo to give up its life for a therapy.

I certainly admit to not being up on this issue though, and it's only as I've followed the growing market for quack therapies using embryos that I've become aware of the immorality of it all.

It's why I said originally this is not a dead end issue for those opposed.

JB Powers 6:23 PM  

NW Burbs,

So because it is a bad investment, the State should fund it? There are plenty of scientists out there to do most anything if you give them money for nothing. I can also provide you a list a mile long of terrible investments that no banker will touch...does this mean the State should step in?

Why wouldn't this go through the NIH or some other semi-respectable research institution? They have priorities in research, and embryonic stem cells are not on the list.

The Politicians are involved only to demonize the pro-life movement. It is a shameful set of false conflicts that gets us to the point where one of the worst scientists in recent memorey (Gov. Blagojevich) is prioritizing medical research in the name of partisan politics.


steve schnorf 7:16 PM  

the morality can't be too clear or well-established, or we wouldn't have so much disagreement.

Anonymous,  10:45 PM  

OK, Bill, assume all the humans got out of the research facility. Would you demand that firefighters run into the building at risk to their very lives in order to "save" the frozen embryos that would be thrown out anyway?

Bill Baar 7:42 AM  

Steve, the dispute is whether an embryo is fully human. I'm with the judge in Cook County who interpreted Illinois law to say yes. But this isn't a moral question i.e. how to behave; it's a definition.

Anon, Firefighters risk their lives running into burning buildings to save property; not just people.

If they can't save all, they make priorities e.g. woman and children first. Where the embryos should fall in that priority list, I don't know. But they should be saved along with whatever can be saved.

But I think your question really is firefighters sacrifice their lives to save a people; and therefore do I believe they have the same obligation to sacrifice thier lives for an embryo.

I've checked codes of ethics for firefighters and see no standard that firefighters are asked to sacrifice their lives for anyone.

I don't believe I can ask a woman to sacrifice her life to bear a child.

I don't believe I can ask a firefighter to sacrifice his/her life for another.

I don't believe I can destroy an embryo's live to save another.

JB Powers 7:59 AM  

anon 10:45,

Brilliant false conflict. Totally ignoring the fact that the State has been raiding Pension funds to pay it's bills, you make a proposition that skips science and economics to pose a unncessary ethics question.

The State is in the Red. We should not speculate much of anything till our bills are paid.


Milton 7:49 PM  

Who said an embryo is fully human? Roman Catholic Church as not even gone this far.

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