What are the denizens of the blogosphere thinking about stem cell research now that it's in the news every day, new breakthroughs are arriving in close sequence, and the political battle seems to be heating up? This is a random selection from a perusal of Technorati, a very useful tool.
In reference to common religious and luddite arguments against progress, "note: they're already here" asks "What does it mean for something to be natural or unnatural?" The argument proposed is not a sound one overall, but it contains some thoughtful points and shows that people are thinking about these things:
For example, take the issue of stem cell research. The US government is banned from funding any stem cell research. Why? Because President Bush decided that it was "unnatural." But is it unnatural? President Bush, being a religious man, might say that a person who loses both their kidneys to disease did so because it was pre-ordained by God. To find another person who might have a kidney to donate is natural. To grow another kidney from stem cells would be unnatural, because only God should have the power to create people (or parts thereof).
The author does successfully demonstrate that the line between "natural" and "unnatural" is entirely abitrary and not fit to be used in any sensible debate. Not that politics sees much in the way of sensible, rational debate, but you know what I mean.
Virginia Postrel comments on both interesting news from Geron that I haven't seen detailed elsewhere and the Canadian ban on therapeutic cloning that I also mentioned at the Longevity Meme. I have to disagree with this point though:
The U.S. also has political gridlock--the best way to block new forms of regulation.
The best way to block new forms of regulation is to have a small government, one that lacks the resources and the will to interfere in every aspect of life.
On that note, the news regarding Pentagon funding of Swedish stem cell research had people confused. Early reports did not indicate that the research would have been allowed in the US, which led to comments like this one from Chris Mooney:
Is the Pentagon above the law? If not, how can it fund stem cell research? Is the DOD doing an end run around Bush's stem cell policy, or does that policy allow for some kind of battlefield exemption? Unfortunately, this annoying Reuters article on the Pentagon's funding of stem cell research in Sweden totally fails to address these central questions, leaving me completely confused about what to make of the latest news.
(Chris Mooney also has more on the Bioethics Council thing, which I suppose we can connect to stem cell research fairly directly). Another signature quote on the Pentagon funding is from the Stupid Evil Bastard:
How's this for ironic? The Pentagon has given a $240,000 grant to a team of Swedish scientists who are working with stem-cells in an attempt to develop an effective treatment for Parkinson's disease. The very sort of research that President Bush banned here in the United States back on August 9th, 2001. Words fail me. All I can do is sit here and shake my head and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
On a more serious note related to this topic, a post by Daniel McConchie on the way in which this Pentagon funding deal came about in the first place is well worth reading, even if I don't agree with his position on the potential of embryonic stem cell research.
On to baldness. It's fascinating, and heartwarming, that at least one vanity industry is getting it right. In the midst of a sea of useless products promoted as "anti-aging," the large hair regrowth industry is sinking serious money into regenerative medicine. I found this comment at Gerbil's Giant Gumball Gumbo:
Just goes to show how ludicrous Bush is by banning this type of research. While it is something as frivolous as baldness, some men find baldness a very restricting "disease". The future of health could soon rely on the study of stem cells and Bush is having none of it. Our scientists, our people, and the world are losing out.
OK...heres the deal. I give a crap that I'm bald. I have a crewcut down to about 3 mm and pretty much always have. But wanna place bets on whether the numbers for stem cell research will experience a bump with men 30+?
Cynicism says that self-interest will win out eventually for all new fields of medical research. The more uses that can be demonstrated, the more people will oppose the current restrictions. If vanity industries help the process along, and are putting money into serious research along the way, more power to them.