Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Stem-Cell Debate

The debate over stem-cell research has recently recruited a seemingly unlikely ally: Nancy Reagan. The Conservative movement icon has written to George Bush urging him to overturn the ban on federal funding for stem-cell research, and last Saturday she spoke out publicly about the potential benefits of stem-cell research and the diseases that research would target (including Alzheimers which her husband Ronald Reagan suffers from). Of the maladies and diseases that are believed to be the initial targets of the majority of research are cancer, heart disease, Alzheimers, diabetes, Parkinson's, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.

Opponents to stem-cell research consist mostly of pro-life religious organizations, predominately Christian, including, but not limited to, Catholics, Baptists and Methodists. According to Richard Doerflinger, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pro-life groups will explain to voters that embryonic stem-cell cloning is "unpromising for cures" and offers "a gateway to all kinds of possible genetic engineering in humans."

While this is a clearly a moral issue to be decided by individual Americans, I take exception to the statements by Doerflinger and others within the opposition that stem-cell research is "unpromising for cures" and otherwise unlikely to provide meaningful scientific breakthroughs. In debates of science, and scientific value, it is important to take the advice of actual scientists not theologians.

After all, the Catholic Church, historically, used to burn heretic scientists at the stake if they claimed that the Earth was round not flat, or that the Sun was the center of the Universe, not the Earth. In addition, Christian movements in the United States today have made relentless efforts to rid public school textbooks and curricula of the mention and tutelage of the Theory of Evolution, in favor of the teaching of religious Creationism. In States such as Georgia and Kansas considerable inroads have been made. In Kansas, between 1999 and 2001, the State had banned the teaching of Evolution in public schools. In a decision in 2002, Kansas reinstated the teaching of Evolution. In many counties in Georgia, Creationism must be taught along with Evolution, and Georgia recently reversed itself from a decision to replace the word "evolution" with the phrase "biological changes over time" in textbooks and curricula.

I am not attempting to demean religious beliefs, I just believe that the scientific process should determine good science, not theologians with firmly held pre-conceived notions.

Time Magazine has a solid summary of the evolving debate here

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