Monday, March 09, 2009

Policy By Mythology

Well, as expected, Barack Obama signed an executive order today lifting Bush's executive order banning federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Spouting the media fueled hype about all the medical miracles that can be expected, hope for the future, blah, blah, blah, the president did as he was told and signed the paper authorizing our taxes to be used to kill human beings in hopes of using their tissue for medical treatment.

There are several frightening things about this, but to me the greatest seems to be that this guy, who is supposedly steering an effort to mend a collapsing economy, can't see the plainest economic fact about this whole matter. If killing embryonic humans to harvest their tissue hold such promise, then why aren't private investors lining up to fund it? That way they'd own the patents and have a corner on the wonder cures, and would make a killing as they are rolled out. Not only should federal funding not be needed, it wouldn't be wanted, since that would cloud the issues of ownership and royalties.

Yet, strangely, the private investors are nowhere to be found, so the hue and cry from the universities and research firms is that federal funds are necessary to unlock this fountain of youth. Nobody, least of all this supposed wunderkind of a president, seems to question this mysterious lack of investors. The answer is right there to see: the private investors did line up to fund it. They have already flushed their billions to no avail. For over a decade, heavily funded ESC research has been going on in venues like Singapore and Korea, which have no restrictive laws. This research has failed to turn up even a single laboratory success, much less a reproducible cure. In fact, the only success in research has been the discovery of more and more roadblocks to progress, causing some ESC researchers to speculate that workable ESC therapies will never be found. Investors are out billions, and are forcing firms like ESC International to back off their ESC research and pursue other paths.

You'd think the president and his advisors would have done a little research before making this policy change - but no. They're beholden to the cultural mythology regarding stem cells. I've written elsewhere about the counter-rational faith in embryonic stem cells, and how impervious it is to facts and logic (we won't even mention moral considerations). So we end up with policy guided by mythology, excused by press releases, and (of course) not missing a chance to take a shot at the despised, reviled prior president.

We humans excel at telling ourselves stories to insulate ourselves from realities we'd rather not face. But as my father liked to point out, there will come a day when the those stories will be stripped away, and we face the unvarnished reality of what we did, why we did it, and how we deceived ourselves about it. On that day, I think I'd rather be the president who put into place a policy protecting embryonic humans, rather than the one who removed that policy.

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