Friday, January 05, 2007

The California Poster Child, Stem Cell Wars and Proverbial Church Picnics

Are states running amok with embryonic stem cell research? Should or can the federal government reassert its control? Can workable compromises be found?

Richard Hayes, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, Ca., addresses these issues in a piece on Bioethics Forum, which is sponsored by the Hastings Center Report.

Hayes writes about the "sorry" state of the stem cell debate:
"This polarized politics has given us the worst of all possible worlds: a policy stalemate at the federal level accompanied by a plethora of state-level stem cell funding programs lacking the sort of planning, ethical oversight, and regulation that biomedical research of such consequence requires. California's $3 billion stem cell program is the poster child of this predicament. Since its inception in 2004 it has been under fire for conflicts of interest, inadequate concern for the health and safety of women who provide eggs for stem cell research, unrepresentative policy-making bodies, and misplaced research priorities.

"These flawed state programs are setting the stage for even greater problems to come. Technologies now under development, including pre-implantation genetic diagnosis for both medical conditions and cosmetic traits, somatic genetic enhancement, and inheritable genetic modification, promise to make the stem cell wars look like the proverbial church picnic.

"If these technologies are embraced by the largely unaccountable infrastructure now being established to support stem cell research, they will be difficult to constrain. Once developed and made commercially available, they would be used disproportionately by the most privileged, and become new and powerful drivers of inequality and exclusion.

"The tragedy of this situation is that public opinion surveys consistently show that a strong majority of Americans support a morally serious middle ground regarding the new human genetic technologies. Americans are not irrevocably opposed to research involving the destruction of human embryos, but they want to make sure it is done only after alternatives have been exhausted, and with effective structures of public oversight in place. Americans want cures for diseases, but few are willing to turn the genetic future of the human species over to dismissively arrogant scientists and profit-hungry biotech boosters. Unfortunately, no organized constituencies with influence comparable to that of the religious conservatives or the research/patient/bioindustrial community exist to represent this majoritarian position in the political arena."
Hayes finds some hope in the approach detailed in "Beyond Bioethics: A Proposal for Modernizing the Regulation of Human Biotechnologies," by Francis Fukuyama and Franco Furger. Hayes said the book "could serve as a rallying point for those desiring an end to the current counterproductive policy stalemate."

Hayes called the book "the most comprehensive analysis of human biotech regulatory policy yet published in the United States. With the 2008 congressional and presidential campaigns now moving into high gear, the report comes at an opportune time. "Beyond Bioethics" should be studied carefully by everyone interested in working towards human biotech policies that can be supported by the great majority of Americans." Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. Hi David, I'm a grad student at Cal doing diss research on the CA stem cell intitiative. i can't find contact info for you online! Please email me at your convenience, then feel free to delete this will self-destruct or something anuther!