Friday, November 30, 2007

The Curse of Krauthammerstein

In a typically Bush-fluffing column in this morning's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer riffs on a statement of basic scientific ethical concern by James A. Thomson, the American scientist who recently achieved what may be a major breakthrough in stem cell research:

If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough.
In Krauthammer's view, that statement of Thomson's from the late 1990's "vindicate[s]" George W. Bush for impeding stem cell research since 2001:
Bush got it right. Not because he necessarily drew the line in the right place. I have long argued that a better line might have been drawn [blah blah blah]. But what Bush got right was to insist, in the face of enormous popular and scientific opposition, on drawing a line at all, on requiring that scientific imperative be balanced by moral considerations.
But as Thomson's statement makes clear, scientific imperative was already being balanced by moral considerations. What was absent from the equation were political considerations. Namely, George W. Bush's political considerations.

As Krauthammer is surely aware, Thomson has made a more recent statement on this issue. It appeared in the Washington Post itself, in an article I excerpted here last week:
One of the researchers involved in yesterday's reports said the Bush restrictions may have slowed discovery of the new method, since scientists first had to study embryonic cells to find out how to accomplish the same thing without embryos.

"My feeling is that the political controversy set the field back four or five years," said James Thomson, who led a team at the University of Wisconsin and who discovered human embryonic stem cells in 1998.
Thomson is unequivocal: Bush did not get it right. And little wonder, with a super-duper shiny President's Council on Bioethics that Krauthammer himself served on for five years. "'Some observers,'" Krauthammer incredulously quotes the Washington Post's Rick Weiss, "'say the president's council is politically stacked.'"

Now where would anybody ever get that idea?