Wednesday, February 01, 2006

You have GOT to be kidding me.

I am having a hard time not using strong words right now.

Apparently, during the State of the Union address last nite, our President spent awhile advocating increased funding of research, and then announced his intent to ban a common research technique for studying human genetic diseases:

A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners, and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator -- and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.

As Dr. Myers appropriately points out, human chimeras are an important tool used to study a number of human diseases. He uses the notable example of Down's Syndrome, but this is a technique that potentially applies to any number--possibly the majority--of diseases that are genetic in origin. Consider Huntington's, Parkinson's, or even sickle cell anemia (I should preface my ignorance here as to the actual utility of chimeric models for these specific diseases, they're examples culled from the top of my head).

A common problem in animal models of disease is that since animals aren't human, we have to manipulate the system in such a fashion as to produce a disease that has the same end result. Consider MPTP, for example, commonly used to create animal models of Parkinsonism. Yes, it helps us look for treatments for advanced cases of Parkinson's. But it's not very useful as a preventative approach, and is useless for searching for genetic therapeutic techniques. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to give a mouse a slip of human DNA that meant it literally had the same problem?

I understand that there are common ethical questions with animal testing. But this is not the argument he seems to be making: he's arguing that there is something inherently sancrosanct about humans that makes it inherently immoral to insert a human gene into an animal. I don't even think he's arguing that, though: I'm not sure he has that level of understanding of the issue. Regardless, this is a present to the religious right and a punitive attack on anyone who's lineage carries a potential genetic disease. Which is to say, all of humanity.

I would also like to point out that I'm giving President Bush the benefit of the doubt here, and desperately hope that by banning "human cloning," he doesn't mean banning the culturing of human tissues (such as skin cultures for burn victims), PCR (a cloning technique utilized ubiquitously, a reasonable example at present being its use in examining DNA from crime scenes), gene therapy, or a host of other common applications. But again, I must say I lack confidence in his ability (or even that of any of his advisors) to actually have any knowledge of these distinctions; or that all of these tasks fall under the heading of "human cloning."

I do assume, however, that he intends to ban cloning human embryos for creation of stem cell lines. Oh, wait, he already did.


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