Reactionary judge halts embryonic stem cell research
Published Sep 2, 2010 9:23 PM
For millions of people with Parkinson’s and other degenerative and
incurable diseases, a hope for a cure relies heavily on stem cell research.
But on Aug. 23, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth issued a major ruling
against embryonic stem cell research. Lamberth decided that two businesspeople
engaged in stem cell research were suffering from unfair competition. James
Sherley of the Boston Biomedical Research Institute and Theresa Deisher of AVM
Biotechnology had alleged that new guidelines for embryonic stem cell research
issued by the Obama administration would result in increased competition for
limited federal funding, and would “injure their ability to compete
successfully for National Institutes of Health (NIH) stem cell research
money.” (Associated Press, Aug. 23)
Lamberth, a Reagan appointee with a long history of reactionary decisions, also
ruled that the federal guidelines would hurt another plaintiff in the case,
Nightlight Christian Adoptions, because they might not be able to
“adopt” as many frozen embryos as they would like. There are
currently around 400,000 frozen embryos stored in U.S. fertility clinics.
Nightlight admitted to CBS News that they had successfully
“adopted” only 250 frozen embryos since they started in 1998.
The “danger” to these plaintiffs was so great, according to
Lamberth, that he ordered an immediate halt to all NIH efforts to expand
funding for embryonic stem cell research. He cited an amendment to a 1996 law
which forbids any research which might destroy an embryo.
The judge, in his decision, did not consider the millions of people suffering
from diseases, many of them terminal, who could be helped or cured by embryonic
stem cell research.
Research on stem cells, especially those from early embryos, is especially
promising because stem cells offer a way to turn back the biological clock.
Current drugs can do no more than slow the progress of degenerative diseases
such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Stem cells may one day replace cells and rebuild tissues, perhaps even organs,
helping to restore patients to the way they were before they became ill.
“Adult” (nonembryonic) stem cell research, while useful, has much
more limited potential according to experts.
European researchers have identified muscle stem cells, suggesting a treatment
for muscular dystrophy, according to a recent report published in the journal
Nature. Among other tissues that could be repaired are those of the central
nervous system and spinal cord, offering hope to millions who suffer from brain
and spinal cord injuries and diseases. Recently, scientists at the NIH reported
remarkable success in their research with embryonic stem cells.
The response to Judge Lamberth’s outrageous decision was quick and angry.
Although some researchers showed surprise and dismay, groups representing the
disabled and medical communities were loud in their denunciation of this attack
on our very lives. Bob Schieffer of CBS News spoke passionately as a cancer
survivor in favor of embryonic stem cell research and expressed his chagrin at
the latest court ruling.
The Obama administration has said it will appeal the decision, but a much
quicker solution is available to the current government if they choose to
utilize it. In July 2006, before the Democrats got control of Congress, a bill
permitting the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research passed both
houses of Congress with bipartisan support.
Even such noted conservatives as Nancy Reagan and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah
supported the bill. George W. Bush vetoed that bill, but presumably, with
majorities in both houses, the Democrats could pass a bill which Obama would
then sign. But this scenario is by no means certain.
Scientific progress under capitalism
It is a fact that the modern scientific revolution was a part of the revolution
of the capitalist class against feudalism. It is also true that in its
progressive phase, capitalism paved the way for many important breakthroughs in
scientific knowledge. Many progressive people are therefore sometimes puzzled
and dismayed by the recent rise of reactionary, obscurantist and downright
anti-scientific movements by the Christian right in the U.S. and elsewhere.
David F. Noble, a college professor from Toronto, has asserted that as
capitalism progressed through the 19th and into the 20th century, science and
engineering came more and more under the control of large corporations.
The goal of these corporations was, of course, to maximize their profits, but
as the 20th century progressed, these corporate “scientists”
acquired the additional tasks of managing and defending the capitalist class.
Scientific discovery only became important when it led to profits, but even
profitable inventions could be sacrificed if they endangered capitalism
economically or politically. (David F. Noble, America by Design, 1977)
The current worldwide economic crisis does indeed threaten the very foundations
of capitalism. Different sectors of the capitalist class are torn between their
desire to make potentially huge profits from stem cell research (there have
already been successful attempts to patent individual genes!) and their need to
maintain political control of the capitalist state. For conservatives in the
United States, this has meant an alliance with the religious right, which is
vehemently opposed to embryonic stem cell research.
The attack on science is a symptom of the long-range decline of capitalism, but
workers and oppressed people, including sick and disabled people, need not
accept it. We should see to it that scientific progress continues, not for
profit, but to meet people’s needs.
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