What to expect from the interventionist US government over the next four years in areas of relevance to healthy life extension and medical research? As I said last week:
Whoever is elected to office following the November US election, whichever way the UN jumps on therapeutic cloning, and whatever the result of the Proposition 71 vote in California, the mechanisms of government capable of restricting medical research will still be in place. The degree to which medicine is socialized - and thus slowed, hobbled and held back from the best possible pace of advance - will remain largely unchanged. Most of the threats to the future of your health and longevity will still be there, personalized by the same government employees and rules that existed before the election.
In his recent commentary on science policy at Reason Online, Ronald Bailey proposes that matters will remain much as they are now:
President Bush limited federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells to colonies of cells that had been derived before his speech on the topic on August 9, 2001. To date, only some 22 colonies of stem cells have qualified for such funding. With the bioluddite Leon Kass, head of his Council on Bioethics, whispering in his ear, President Bush is unlikely to change his position on this issue despite the fact that recent polls show that a majority of Americans favor more federal funding for stem-cell research. The passage of California's Proposition 71, which establishes a $3 billion state fund for stem-cell research, is an interesting exercise in federalism which Bush will likely ignore.
Of the 22, almost none are useful - and hundreds or thousands of lines are needed for serious progress in any case. Federal funding is far less important than private funding; what is really needed now is for governments to step back from trying to ban therapeutic cloning and related medical research. These anti-research efforts have been effectively scaring away private funding for years now.
On the topic of pro-death bioethicist Leon Kass, wider bioethics and anti-research forces in government, the the american journal of bioethics editors blog has a few choice words:
There is still one winable battle, although I fear it is not in Ohio or Iowa. The battle is to reform or reject the President's Council on Bioethics. Leon Kass is no doubt gearing up to lead all the President's ethicists for another term of moral seriousness. He must be put on notice that bioethics cannot afford four more years of feckless, xenophobic neocon posturing.
The PCB literally ignores the entire literature in bioethics in its writing. Wait, I forgot, they did cite Carl Elliott a couple of times. But it is shameful to see the degree to which they ignore - as in do not respond to at all - those who do not agree with them entirely. This Council must go, or at least be made to play a peripheral role in the bioethics scene, unless it is radically remade with voices from both sides of the aisle.
Is there anyone who doubts that the Leon Kass who spoke on behalf of the President's policies openly during an election season will seize upon Bush's "terminal presidency" to push for real actions that could really set back stem cell research and even IVF? I don't.
It is a pretty terrible day for those of us in bioethics who supported the right to choose, hES research, and dozens of other areas I have not taken the space to discuss.
A concern I have voiced before (Chris Mooney also) is that federal organizations have shown themselves very willing to intervene in conflicts between local and federal law: personal drug use, medical decisions, patients rights and privacy are all fair game, and more restrictive federal laws have won out. There are anti-research laws just waiting to be passed that would conflict with local support for medical research - such as California's embryonic stem cell research initiative. We have seen federal raids before - will we see federal agents raiding laboratories and arresting researchers who are working to cure age-related conditions?
It's an ugly possibility, but it is a possibility.