Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Assessing the Doyle Stem Cell Ad

Conservatives have been doing there best the past couple of days to muddy the waters on stem cell research, particularly in light of the most recent Doyle campaign ad on the issue.

Most are directly challenging the ad’s assertion that Mark Green has said he would like to outlaw stem cell research, but some have even claimed that Green has never even voted against embryonic stem cell research; rather, they argue, he’s merely against cloning.

The latter claim is simply not true.

First, cloning is not currently a part of embryonic stem cell research in the US. Therapeutic cloning may need to be in the future to derive cells for a patient that have a reduced chance of rejection, but there is no telling whether that will be necessary until further research on embryonic stem cells is complete. Reproductive cloning – which is what draws the ire of most Americans – will never be a part of embryonic stem cell research.

Second, while Green has never voted to ban private research on embryonic stem cells (to be sure, there has never been a bill for him to vote on regarding this), his votes last year and last week to preserve restrictions on federal funding for research on new embryonic stem cell lines – research that does not involve cloning – clearly show opposition to embryonic stem cell research.

But even the wider charge the Doyle ad makes – that Green would like to outlaw stem cell research – has some significant accuracy to it, as well.

Although, to be fair, the ad should’ve said embryonic stem cell research, since Green hasn’t shown any opposition to other forms of stem cell research. Yet, on the other hand, researchers are in agreement that embryonic stem cell research holds the most promise for finding cures to a variety of diseases including juvenile diabetes, which afflicts the girl from the ad.

Green’s position on embryonic stem cell research is a moving target, to say the least. Prior to last week, the closest he came to publicly stating a position was to refer to the research as immoral.

In a letter to Doyle a couple of months ago, two bishops from Wisconsin urged the governor to withdraw all state support for embryonic stem cell research, citing morality as a justification for the request. At the time, the Green Team called the letter “right on” and said that it reflects what Green “has been saying all along.”

It was in this context that the Doyle ad was created. Considering Green was calling the research immoral and backing pleas for the withdrawal of state support from it, it isn’t at all a stretch to say he doesn’t want it to continue.

However, as of last week – after the ad was produced – the Green line on embryonic stem cell research changed. Now it’s just an issue of public finance for Green, not morality. To be sure, a Green press release on the topic last week talks all about funding and doesn’t mention morality once. And at a citizen forum exactly one week ago, Green had this to say: “Are we going to force taxpayers to pay for it? There is no ban here on private sector research.”

After all, if Green was to stick with the morality argument, for the sake of consistency, he would’ve also needed to oppose the widely-popular practice of in vitro fertilization (IVF) – which is something no politician seeking statewide office wants to do. (The Catholic Church, in fact, does call for the end of IVF for the same reasons it supports the end of embryonic stem cell research.)

So, instead, he backed off and has now started to use the funding argument. And, as it happens, at the citizen forum last week, Green came out publicly in support of IVF. (Although, it should be noted, the new funding line doesn’t exactly give Green consistency, considering some government funding right here in Wisconsin goes to support the destruction of embryos as a necessary part of the IVF process.)

All-in-all, to call the Doyle ad completely off base – as conservatives and the Green Team have – is itself off the mark and nothing more than an attempt to cover the fact that the little Green has offered on the topic of embryonic stem cell research ranges from restrictive at best to downright hostile at worst.


Blogger Sven said...

WPR did a show on the Doyle ad this morning that had me beating my head against the steering wheel.

The UWSP polysci prof kept trying to pass off Green's position as nuanced. Thus Green's isn't a craven, babbling idiot who's attempting to pander to the fundies and at the same time avoid the mainstream's wrath.

Nah, his scientific and moral incoherence makes him Solomonic. Whadda world we live in.

July 26, 2006  
Anonymous Todd said...

WPR consistently fails to provide credible reporting, as much as they hype themselves to the contrary.

Thanks, Seth, for this clear explanation.

July 26, 2006  
Blogger Erik Opsal said...

Why would they put a UWSP professor on the air?

July 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Although, to be fair, the ad should’ve said embryonic stem cell research, since Green hasn’t shown any opposition to other forms of stem cell research."

And to claim that he has attempted to "outlaw" stem cell research is nowhere near accurate.

What is your opinion of the recent EU decision to only promote stem cell research that doesn't destroy embryos?

July 26, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...


The ad doesn't say Green has "attempted" to outlaw stem cell research, it says he would like to outlaw it. And considering Green's comments on the immorality of embryonic stem cell research, claiming he wants to outlaw it is pretty much on target (unless you want to argue he's willing to ignore his moral beliefs). As I mention in the post, the Doyle ad just should've specified that it was embryonic stem cell research.

As for the EU, the countries within it vary widely on their embryonic stem cell stances. Here's a rundown of where they all stand individually.

The EU as a whole currently has a notably more liberal policy on funding embryonic stem cell research than the US. While EU funding (which is separate than the individual funding each country in the Union provides for itself) can't go toward research that actually destroys human embryos (i.e., research to develop new lines), it can go toward research on those new lines once they're developed and there no longer is a need for embryo destruction (that restriction was approved to pacify Catholic-dominated countries in the Union; many of the individual countries -- like the UK -- don't even have that restriction for their own funding). The US policy, conversely, is that federal funds can't go to research that develops new lines OR research on those new lines once they have been developed and embryo destruction is no longer necessary -- this is far stricter than the EU.

As a UK stem cell expert at King's College said recently: "The United States lags far behind Europe when it comes to stem cell research because they face so many obstacles."

Essentially, where the EU stands now is where the US stood prior to Bush coming into office. The Clinton Administration didn't allow for research that developed new lines of embryonic stem cells because it involves the destruction of embryos (and that's not a Clinton rule, it's a rule instituted by the Dickey-Wicker Amendment that's been attached as a rider to the DHHS appropriations bill since 1996), but Clinton did allow for research on those new lines once developed because it no longer involves the destruction of embryos (you can read more about that here).

If the US would adopt rules like the EU, that would certainly make me happy -- although Bush and Green would never stand for it.

July 26, 2006  
Blogger krshorewood said...

The GOP is on thin ice when it comes to attacking the Doyle ad and they know it because support for embryonic stem cell research is overwhelming. So they had to come up with this "Doyle is unethical" frame by claiming that the ad is misleading the public by not mentioning the differences in adult and embryonic stem cell research.

I'll bet the Doyle camp just overlooked that difference because the Wisconsin public knows the difference, despite what the GOP candidate for Lt. Gov. says. Let's face it, the hard right has been screaming enough about the distinction so it would be tough for any one to avoid being educated.

What is dishonest is claiming that someone is for stem research but against government funding. Typically in this "free enterprise world" the gov't funds 35% to 50% of medical/pharma what is risky research done by private companies. Now many people don't know that.

So essentially to not fund something in the world of medicine using the government is to essentially kill it. Mark Green and the rest of the politically active hard right know this is how it works, but of course they will not tell you.

July 26, 2006  
Blogger Dennis York said...

Gee, which crazy right wing blogger could you be responding to? Incidentally, the comment you left on my post was the best, most coherent rebuttal I have heard, yet.

I said, "There is nothing that Green has ever done that would prevent stem cell research on these leftover embryos," and I stick by my position. If Green in fact voted to cut or ban federal funding, that isn't preventing research on the embryos.

I get that on the Democratic side, the extent to which someone "supports" or "opposes" something is generally measured in terms of how much government funding there is appropriated for it. In many cases, government crowds out private companies that would be able to provide services cheaper and more efficiently. For example, see Wal-Mart. Instead of utilizing private health care, they pass many of their employees off on the generous government-funded health care, and taxpayers pick up the tab.

There's no question that embryonic stem cell research is a lucrative business. Any private research firm that unlocks the key to curing all these diseases will be swimming in profits. In many cases, lack of federal funding will shift resources to private companies who will do better research more efficiently.

But this is hardly "preventing" embryonic stem cell research. In fact, if you have a basement full of embryos, feel free to research the sh** out of them. Nobody's stopping you.

Keep up the good work.

July 26, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for your comment, Dennis. I certainly wouldn't call you a crazy right-wing blogger -- you're far from it. There are definitely some out there, but you're not one of them.

I see your point about the private research, but there are a few main issues I have with it:

1) Mark Green and others (like Bush) don't defend their decision to restrict public funding for embryonic stem cell reserach in market-based terms, as you do here. It's based on morality for them (although Green has been backing away from that line lately). And to argue against the morality of embryonic stem cell research keeps open the possibility that further restrictions could be placed on the research in the future, such as banning particular techniques and procedures that brush too close to what opponents consider to be the moral line.

2) Defending the restriction of public funds in market terms is a problem becuase there is currently no market to speak of when it comes to embryonic stem cells -- the research is years away from that possibility. Right now what researchers need (and what they're asking for) is a steady source of funding to back what could be years and years of research before anything "marketable" is ready -- and just about any researcher will say that public dollars are far more steady year to year than private dollars. What's more, the NIH currently funds around 30% of the biotech sector as a whole -- that's a lot of funding (about $28 billion each year, to be exact) that new embryonic stem cell lines are missing out on because of these restrictions.

3) Restricting public dollars to research on only certain lines of embryonic stem cells (the number available is decreasing each year) forces researchers to completely separate their research into two parts. In some cases, researchers have even needed to build two separate labs to do research – one for the research that uses federal dollars and one for the research that does not (the new Institute of Discovery at the UW is being forced to do the same). Needless to say, these requirements greatly increase the total cost and adversely affect the efficiency of the research.

In the end, my position and that of others who support public funding is that it's imperative that we put every resource and dollar available -- whether public or private -- into this research because it holds so much promise. Anything less is a disservice to the research and those who could potentially benefit from it.

Thanks, again, for stopping by. Keep up the good work on your end, too.

July 26, 2006  
Blogger Sven said...

In many cases, government crowds out private companies that would be able to provide services cheaper and more efficiently

Soooeee! My, that pig shore look purty with that libertarian lipstick.

That ain't Green's argument, Bub. As he's said, ad nauseum, "My vote was not about expanding stem cell research. It is about whether taxpayers should be required to fund the destruction of living human embryos."

The Doyle ad does Green a favor in assuming that the latter's position is comprehensible. If Green is serious (and I don't think he is; he'd support funding if he thought it'd win him votes and/or corporate support, and if he didn't have the fundie albatross around his neck), his logic leads him to all kinds of embarrassing questions. Would he withold Medicaid payments for patients using therapies derived from "the destruction of living human embryos?"

Here's a real challenge for you, Dennis: Craft an "liberal" apologia for President Dennis Kucinich cutting defense spending because "taxpayers shouldn't be required to fund the destruction of human life."

July 26, 2006  
Anonymous Ox said...

Dennis York's comment "In many cases, lack of federal funding will shift resources to private companies who will do better research more efficiently." is plain absurd. Look at the government funded research going back until WWII and before. Significant breakthrough after breakthrough that effects every single aspect of your day to day life has come from government funded research. Not all of it, but America would be a very different, less prosperous, less healthy country if you take that out of the eqation. Take Dennis' logic to the natural conclusion and government should pull all research dollars and let free enterprise pick up the whole tab.

Govt research dollars are there to help fund larger, expensive r&d that has a benefit to our society. R&D is about risk - most projects fail, few succeed, especially in the health care field. Government funding helps mitigate a part of that risk to make private investments go further and make the project an easier risk to take.

But I'm all for this new Republican line - cancel all government funding of R&D for companies, research institutions and universities. That message will go over well. Go sell it.

July 26, 2006  

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