Given the foremost social, economic, and foreign-policy issues facing the nation and the world during his tenure, there’s a strong argument that George W. Bush — certainly the worst president during my lifetime — is the worst president in U.S. history. If his stances and actions with regard to education (“We should teach Intelligent Design so that the kids know what the controversy’s about”), the war in the Middle East, Hurricane Katrina, and tax reform hasn’t yet given him that unofficial title, he’ll surely own it if he follows through on his promise to veto a bill that would lift restictions on embryonic stem-cell research, which the Senate approved yesterday, 63-37. (Four more yeas and Bush would have lost his veto power.)
There is no cogent reason — nada, nil, zip — for the restrictions that have been in place since the summer of 2001, a shackling courtesy of Bush that has limited research to embryos produced before that time and has prevented untold millions of dollars from flowing into an enterprise showing unquestionable promise in treating a vast variety of diseases. (Because ESC’s are totipotent, or can be made to develop into any sort of specialized tissue, scientists would ultimately have the opportunity to investigate virtually any physiological system.) Despite funding and other issues, scientists have made excellent progress in the past five years, including the successful fusion of ESC’s and egg cells, which allows for the generation of multiple cell “lines” using a single donor stem cell.
ESC’s, as most know, come from embryos (actually, five- to seven-day-old polycellular masses known as blastocysts, an esoteric medical term that may soon find its way into the vernacular) that are “spillover” from in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, which typically produce more embryos than the potential parents seek. In short, embryos can only be used as stem-cell “donors” if all other options have been exhausted. That is, there are strict regulations in place to prevent situations in which embryos which might one day become human beings could be co-opted for research purposes. As a result, once embryos reach the point at which they could potentially be used as stem-cell donors, their only alternate fate is to be discarded.
To summarize: The embryos under political scrutiny have one of two destinies — promising research or the garbage can. It’s that simple. So what’s the problem?
Well, it’s easy to see why there’s a controversy when you bear in mind the irrationality of religious fundamentalists, to whom Bush the Vacuous panders shamelessly. Witness the astounding stupidity of Bush lapdog Tony Snow:
“The simple answer is he thinks murder’s wrong,” Snow said. “The president is not going to get on the slippery slope of taking something living and making it dead for the purposes of scientific research.”
This mind-blowing bullshit truly speaks for itself. First of all, let’s keep in mind that the “something living” is destined for the dumpster anyway. That aside, there is no argument for labeling a frozen blastocyst as “alive.” Can they be kept as pets? What do they like to eat? Do they need vaccinations?
I’ve often believed that the greatest bane posed to modern civilization by the shitheap snuff novel known as the Bible is its spurring creationists to continually interfere with public science education. But this is far, far worse. The potential loss to humanity posed by a dogmatic blockade of medical research is incalculable, and people like our president simply do not know, care, or both. A genuinely intelligent and progressive species observing this drama from Planet Altair-9 would find our baseless pride in reigning intellectually supreme over the rest of Earth’s creatures baffling, laughable and pathetic, and they’d probably be tempted to euthanize us with cosmic death rays. Just as the stupidity in all of this cannot be measured, I cannot describe how disgusted I am by this gruesome carnival of cultural and political failure.
3:45 UPDATE: The veto is now in the books. This country is fifty-nine flavors of screwed.