Thursday, August 04, 2005

Moralists Have Problems with Snuppy

Last week a South Korean researcher, Woo-Suk Hwang, went frolicking with his new Afghan puppy named Snuppy. It was a remarkable event.

The remarkable thing wasn’t that this man played with his puppy, but that the puppy was the world’s first cloned dog. Sure, there have been cloned sheep, cattle, and other animals, but never a dog.

For some reason known only to the researchers, cloning dogs is an extremely difficult task. To get Snuppy, Hwang had to use over a thousand cloned embryos transferred into 123 surrogates in order to achieve only two puppies, one of which died of pneumonia not long after birth. That left Snuppy, now two months old.

Hwang has become a hero to South Koreans. The government there has rewarded his diligence and expertise by funding new labs for him.

South Korea wants to be in the forefront when it comes to cloning, including research involving the production of cloned human embryos for the extraction of stem cells.

In South Korea, as in many other countries, it is illegal to produce a human clone. Hwang agrees with this prohibition, saying that the ethical and moral costs of producing a human clone are too high.

But his country is among those that see huge societal rewards from funding cloning projects that might lead to cures for genetic disorders such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, or that might lead to therapy that will help to regenerate damaged nerve and spinal tissue.

But the Catholic Ethics Committee isn’t too pleased with Dr. Hwang’s cloned puppy. They say the more animals that are cloned, the more likely someone will clone a human one day. And they don’t like the idea of using human embryos for research. One member called it an affront to the culture of life.

Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? Ever since long before the Middle Ages the Catholic’s corrupt hierarchical control structure has done more to hinder scientific progress than any other single entity in history. If it were not for religious influences, man may have walked on the moon 200 years ago.

Meanwhile, though, back in the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist broke ranks with Pres. Bush on the matter of using federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. Frist now says he supports legislation, currently wending its way through Congress, which would permit the use of federal funds for such research.

Bush, in 2001, while allowing such funding, placed such tight restrictions on it that most scientists believe it completely hamstrings their research. Bush has allowed research to continue using lines of stem cells that were already in existence prior to 2001.

The bill passed by the House last month and currently under consideration by the Senate, where it is expected to pass by a wide majority, would allow new stem cell lines to be used as long as the embryos they are obtained from are among the hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos created in fertility clinics. Most of those embryos will be discarded anyway.

Last week, Bush held firm to his 2001 executive order, saying he would veto the bill. “They have the prerogative to pass laws. I have the prerogative to set limits on what I think is right,” Bush said.

See, there it is. Bush has the prerogative to set limits based on what HE believes is right. Never mind that a firm majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate, both of which are controlled by his own party, disagree with him. Never mind that the vast majority of Americans, something like 70 percent, believe that embryonic stem cell research is ok.

Once our president has made up his mind on something, it’s carved in stone. It doesn’t matter if he is later proved wrong, as he was with his assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction hidden all over that country. It doesn’t matter that a huge majority of his constituents and members of Congress disagree with him.

No, once he digs in on an issue, there is no longer any room for debate. He’s right; the majority is wrong. That’s what it takes to please the right-wing religious dogmatists who put him in office.

Bush will be remembered as one of America’s least effect, yet most arrogant presidents. Thankfully, he won’t be in office next term.

Frist, who may be a Republican hopeful for the 2008 election, knows that he can’t win by going against the moderate majority in America, even if he alienates the religious right. That, plus the fact that he is a doctor, is probably what made him change his mind on the stem cell issue.

Bush has nothing to lose. He can afford to stand firm, no matter who it alienates. And being the stubborn man he is, standing firm must be in his genes.

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