May 19, 2004

Waving the Bloody Stump

While it is not a new challenge, countering heartrending accounts of people whose relatives are ill and who want ill-considered public policy adjustments has always been a very difficult job. Jonathen Turley doesn't make it easy. I feel badly that his father is ill. I hope that one of the treatments under development to treat Parkinson's comes in time for his father. But Turley's grief has led to some public policy dishonesty on his part and while understandable, cannot be permitted to go unanswered.

Would it do Turley's father any good to have the benefit of embryonic stem cell treatments and start to recover from Parkinson's disease only to gain brain tumors and die of treatment induced cancer? Or would the expensive immunosuppressant drugs needed to do in his immune system enough that he succumbs to an opportunistic infection? The truth is that some of those treatments would derive cells from embryos and some of those treatments would derive cells from the patients and nobody, not Turley, not anybody can say for sure which is the wiser course for government to fund research.

But what is clear is that politicization of the process is hazardous. But politicization comes in many forms, sometimes from the religious right who have moral concerns, sometimes from the secular left who want to promote a lucrative secondary tissue market that abortion providers would be so well placed to take advantage of. It is a tactic of that second sort of bias to pretend that adult stem cell research either does not exist or is somehow less worthy of support. Turley's article is steeped in the conventions of that bias.

At the heart of the controversy is a civil rights issue. At what point in development does a child gain rights? If the point is too early, women are murderers every 28 days if they do not get pregnant and men are mass murderers. But if it is too late then we justify infanticide to get rid of the inconvenient. Secular human rights theory agrees with the great monotheistic traditions that man is an end, not means to an end. Turley assumes the question is settled and he may use these human tissues as means to the end of restoring his father's health. The question is not settled, not in the least.

Posted by TMLutas at May 19, 2004 12:05 PM