Sunday, 16 May 2004
Stem Cell Halfspeak
The Bush administration has started an interesting tango on the issue of therapeutic stem cell research. Since announcing his initial policy decision on 9 August 2001, Bush has clung to the false premise that already-existing stem cell lines are sufficiently numerous to support appropriate levels of scientific research. Until now.
Yesterday, Reuters reported that Dr. Elias Zerhouni, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) penned a letter to members of Congress, responding to a letter signed by 206 Congressmen last month. (Links: letter, news coverage) According to Reuters, Zerhouni wrote that "the president's position is still predicated on his belief that taxpayer funds should not 'sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life.'" However, Zerhouni admitted that "it is fair to say that from a purely scientific perspective more cell lines may well speed some areas of human embryonic stem cell research."
The New York Times reports today that proponents of loosening the Bush policy are saying that this does not portend a policy shift but that it does indicate Bush's willingness to begin discussing the issue again. I am not so sure of Zerhouni's message. If they are right, this development may be the ticket for John Marburger to save his soul (to borrow from Bush's moralistic rhetoric).
I think this letter represents a shift in the articulation of Bush's position, but I do not see where it says anything about openness to change. It is refreshing, however, to see Bush move away from scientific doublespeak — even if it is to equally incomprehensible halfspeak.