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Digging Themselves a Hole

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on July 15th, 2008


from Flickr Creative Commons user ratterrell

In the wake of new methods of deriving fully potent stem cells without destroying embryos, researchers and advocates appear to be falling into two camps. One group not only is open to cellular reprogramming (also known as induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS), but also praises its potential. Although they support and sometimes practice embryonic stem cell research, some also recognize concerns about the moral status of the embryo, even if they don't share these concerns.

The other group of embryonic stem cell researchers and advocates, however, seems to feel threatened by the new method. After all, many of them owe their positions of authority, prominence, and funding to the ongoing controversy and political stalemate. A recent statement from the governing board of the California stem cell research program indicates it is among this latter camp.

The letter describes the board's opposition to a state Senate bill that would slightly modify the law governing the agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Proposition 71 [PDF], which created the CIRM, calls for the state agency to prioritize stem cell research that the federal government neglects. However, it can fund any biomedical research if a two-thirds supermajority of its grants review working group approves. The current Senate bill would lower that bar to a simple majority.

This would not restrict the CIRM in any way. If anything, the bill simply gives the CIRM more flexibility. Considering that the grants working group generally operates by consensus, that the governing board must approve all grants, and that the CIRM currently generously supports non-embryonic stem cell research, the amendment would have zero practical impact.

Nevertheless, the board worked itself into histrionics over any concession to the development of alternatives:

[T]he proposed amendment to Proposition 71 would send the wrong message to Californians and to the nation at large. It would also thwart the will of the more than seven million Californians who voted for Proposition 71 in order to address the federal funding gap for human embryonic stem cell research, a gap that continues to exist to this day. By removing the two-thirds vote requirement, the amendment would undermine the very purpose of Proposition 71 – to provide a priority for funding human embryonic stem cell research. [Italics mine]

Embryonic stem cell research is a means, not an end. The goal is to reduce human suffering. If this can be done as well - or potentially better - with a method that does not antagonize a large portion of the population - even if I do not share their concerns - then all the better.

Some embryonic stem cell research advocates seem to be affected by a bunker mentality. Unfortunately, they are creating the impression that they are now more focused on belittling alternatives than on developing therapies. Rhetorically, they are digging themselves into an ever deeper hole.





Stem cell lobbyists decide Sen. Sheila Kuehl isn't really craven, ignorant, mindless, and dumb

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on July 15th, 2008


Robert Klein
"Stem cell czar" Robert Klein

The chairman of California's stem cell research program took a long overdue step and resigned as president of a ­private stem cell research lobbying organization. This comes on the heels of a scathing blog post from his group, Americans for Cures, that belittled the intelligence and motives of state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, calling her "craven," "ignorant," "mindless," and "dumb."

Kuehl, the progressive chair of the Health Committee, is backing a bill to gently alter the policies of the public agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The letter was posted on the popular blog The Daily Kos, but soon removed, and Americans for Cures issued an apology.

Over the last three and a half years, ­we­ (1, 2, 3, 4) and others described Robert Klein's dual roles of public servant and private advocate as inappropriate, and called for him to resign. In fact, there's now a feeling of déjà vu. When the CIRM was first established at the start of 2005, Klein initially tried to wear the same two hats, then as head of the advocacy group California Research and Cures Coalition. But after pressure from us and other groups, he stepped down from the advocacy position.

Even without an official role, Klein is likely to keep one foot in the advocacy world. After all, Americans for Cures still shares an office and fax line with Klein Financial Corporation. We can expect to see the group praise many of the positions he takes at the CIRM (1, 2), and to watch him smear some elected officials while endorsing others. For this reason, and others, we believe Klein should keep the promise he made when he first took the reins at the CIRM, when he assuaged critics by promising to serve only half his term. Those three years have passed, and it is time for Klein to move on.

Update (July 16): The Niche blog reports that Klein is merely resigning as President of the board of Americans for Cures, and intends to remain as a member of the board. In addition, the Americans for Cures / Klein Financial Corporation office will serve as a site of an upcoming CIRM meeting.





Cloning Canine Patriotism?

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on July 11th, 2008


The dog-and-pony show - er, I mean the dog-cloning business - improbably stars a Marin County impresario, an eccentric billionaire, and a pair of disgraced Korean cloning researchers who used to be partners but are now firing legal shots at each other over cloning patents.

The pet cloners' latest public-relations foray began with Marin County entrepreneur Lou Hawthorne's May appearance on Good Morning America. Sadly, GMA pliantly showcased the cute puppy clones but completely missed most of the story, including the involvement of cloning fraudster and embezzler Hwang Woo Suk (1, 2) and his ex-partner Lee Byeong-chun.

But the GMA feature was just a warm-up for a "Golden Clone Giveaway" essay contest sponsored by the "Best Friends Again" division of the Hawthorne-Hwang company, BioArts. And the contest, in turn, was a come-on for an online auction of five dog cloning "slots," with bids starting at $100,000.

When BioArts announced the winner of its Golden Clone contest on June 30, it broke new ground in emotional manipulation. The dog that BioArts says it will replicate for free is a German Shepherd that was already famous for his role in the search-and-rescue operation at Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks. That dog - and those who spent hundreds of hours training him - are indeed heroes. The cloning ringmasters who are trying to appropriate the 9/11 disaster for a practice that abuses pets and misleads pet lovers are simultaneously ridiculous and offensive.

Meanwhile, outside the circus ring, the legal battle between BioArts and another dog-cloning company, Korea-based RNL Bio, continues to simmer, with both sides claiming exclusive worldwide dog cloning rights.

According to the Best Friends Again website, its online cloning auction concluded on July 9 at 3 pm Pacific time. As of today, the website shows only two of the five slots sold, and BioArts has provided no confirming details about the buyers or selling prices.

And in a display of collective good sense, the media has studiously ignored the entire cloning contest and auction sideshow.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:





Putting Makeup on a Pig

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on July 9th, 2008


Sometimes, it seems, honesty is not the best policy. Proponents of controversial ideas or products often learn that while a direct description may elicit backlash, a kinder, gentler euphemism may play better. No one supports torture, so the Bush Administration praises "enhanced interrogation." In the face of growing environmental consciousness, the oil company British Petroleum is now just BP, along with a green color scheme, a flower icon, and a "beyond petroleum" tagline. Corporate firings became layoffs, then downsizing, and now resizing.

It seems that advocates of using emerging technologies to create a new type of human have realized that "transhuman" doesn't go over well. The World Transhumanist Association is undergoing a rebranding. It is asking its members to vote on a proposal to leave behind "transhumanism" in favor of "H+" or "humanity plus." It seems the problem, according to the proposal (no link available), is that:

Most thought leaders (especially in science and technology) do not explicitly identify themselves as "transhumanists," and some, by association, have been unwilling to affiliate with the World Transhumanist Association. This is also true for graduate students who may consider it detrimental to their careers to associate with transhumanism in light of possible negative connotations.
However, the proposal does not consider the possibility that it's the actual premise of transhumanism that is unappealing - not its name. Few people besides Lee Silver giddily look forward to a future where the genetically enhanced and the natural have diverged into distinct ruling and proletariat species.

Hopefully, when thought leaders learn of "humanity plus," they will see it for what it is: Not enhancing humanity, but splitting and undermining it.




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