Saturday, October 09, 2004

Ok, here's the thing I don't understand about the embryonic stem cell controversy. The Federal government has effectively blocked research with embryonic stem cells, because that research requires killing embryos. These embryos are produced in fertility clinics and will generally be destroyed anyway. So the government's decision shuts off research that could help millions of sick people, but it doesn't actually save any embryos. Why isn't Bush just moving to ban the fertility practices that produce excess embryos?

Is it because the federal government funds research, and fertility clinics are privately funded? That's true, but it doesn't really explain anything, I don't think. The regulations were formulated to make stem cell research impossible. Bush could have denied federal funding to projects, rather than institutions that used embryonic stem cells. It's possible to fund a project without federal money; it's not possible to run an entire institution in the U.S. without federal funds. The point here wasn't to withhold government funds from a practice Bush finds objectionable: it was to ensure that practice ceased to exist. I'm pretty sure that if the federal government went after fertility clinics with similar vigor, they could prevent clinics from producing excess embryos.

I'm thinking that maybe it's politically easier to ban a practice that's in the research stages, rather than a procedure which is helping people today. I also suspect that Bush realizes that once stem cell research starts producing effective therapies, there won't be any turning back. I can conceive of a future in which they'd outlaw in vitro fertilization; I can't conceive of Congress outlawing a cure for Alzheimers.

Anyway, I watched the debate with my friends L. and M. They're, like me, not very enthusiastic about Kerry but voting for him because they think Bush is scary and dangerous, and I don't think any of us are very good at gauging how debates have gone. Afterwards, we called L's parents, who are your typical swing voters. They both voted for Bush last time, and they're both 80% sure that they're voting for Kerry. L's father hasn't voted for a Democrat in 20 years, but he's a Korean war veteran, and he's furious at Bush for unnecessarily putting American soldiers in harm's way. He says that the military is good at breaking things and killing people, and sending them to do anything else is pure folly. The idea of sending troops to instill democracy, he says, is insane. So anyway, L's parents were very impressed with Kerry in the first debate and less so in this one. They felt like he missed opportunities to slam Bush. They didn't feel like he came down hard enough on Bush about the environment, which surprised me. They're still leaning towards Kerry, but they said they'd feel better about it if he did better in the next debate.

That's interesting, because I thought Bush was a mess. He seemed totally defensive: he's stopped pretending that he has achievements to tout, and now he's just arguing that his failures aren't his fault. I thought he really bombed the question about mistakes he's made: he thought he was being challenged on Iraq, but really he was being asked to show that he had an ounce of humility or self-awareness. Coming into the debates, people thought he was basically a good guy: he's now coming across like a total ass.

Actually, I think the difference between me and L's parents is that I don't expect to like Kerry. I'm just focusing on how much I despise Bush. They still want to be able to vote for someone who they respect; I've given up and just want to vote for someone who I don't think will imperil humanity.

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