Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Event: ELECTION 2008 : MICHIGAN : PROPOSAL 2008-02 : Embryonic Stem-Cell Research.

Proposed Legislative Amendment:

A proposal to amend the State Constitution to address human embryo and human embryonic stem cell research in Michigan. (Proposal provided under an initiative petition filed with the Secretary of State on July 7, 2008.)

The proposal would add a new Section 27 to Article 1 of the State Constitution to read as follows:

To ensure that Michigan citizens have access to stem cell therapies and cures, and to ensure that physicians and researchers can conduct the most promising forms of medical research in this state, and that all such research is conducted safely and ethically, any research permitted under federal law on human embryos may be conducted in Michigan, subject to the requirements of federal law and only the following additional limitations and requirements:
(a) No stem cells may be taken from a human embryo more than fourteen days after cell division begins; provided, however, that time during which an embryo is frozen does not count against this fourteen day limit.
(b) The human embryos were created for the purpose of fertility treatment and, with voluntary and informed consent, documented in writing, the person seeking fertility treatment chose to donate the embryos for research; and
(i) the embryos were in excess of the clinical need of the person seeking the fertility treatment and would otherwise be discarded unless they are used for research; or

(ii) the embryos were not unsuitable for implantation and would otherwise be discarded unless they are used for research.

(c) No person may, for valuable consideration, purchase or sell human embryos for stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures.

(d) All stem cell research and all stem cell therapies and cures must be conducted and provided in accordance with state and local laws of general applicability, including but not limited to laws concerning scientific and medical practices and patient safety and privacy, to the extent that any such laws do not:
(i) prevent, restrict, obstruct, or discourage any stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures that are permitted by the provisions of this section; or
(ii) create disincentives for any person to engage in or otherwise associate with such research or therapies or cures.

(3) Any provision of this section held unconstitutional shall be severable from the remaining portions of this section.

Blue Skies Falling: YES

The Detroit Free Press carried a balanced discussion of the charges the pro- and con- camps brought against each other.

It's good to have a balanced, reasonable discussion, and it's also reasonable to answer emphatically when one argument is objectively stronger than another. I support both of the ballot initiatives this year, but my support for Proposal 2 is both stronger and, to my way of thinking, more important. There are medical, moral, and economic reasons to support this initiative.

The MEDICAL reason to support this initiative.

Opponents of stem cell research like to make observations such as this: "adult and umbilical stem cells have proven to be way more helpful than ESCs, which have given us NOTHING so far."

The point is disingenuous, so we have to address it up-front. First, it evaluates the progress of research strictly on the basis of what has already borne fruit (and even so doing, neglects the fact that adult stem cells have been researched and utilized for much longer). The main advantage that embryonic stem cells have over adult and umbilical cells is that they have not yet developed a specific functionality; they are the most adaptable. This implies that, in the long run, they probably have more applications, and can do things that non-embryonic stem calls can not. Scientifically speaking, this is why there is such a thirst in the medical community to step up research to a level where more meaningful results will manifest. To mix metaphors a little, the Soviets got into space first, but we landed on the moon. It wasn't cheap to get there. Or to make the same argument a bit differently, Jonas Salk wasn't able to cure polio all at once.

The more distressing problem here is the anti- arguments' circular logic: anyone with a scientific or medical background will tell you that it is nearly impossible to make progress on new techniques and technologies without adequate funding, and government-backed funding has a decisive role here because private corporations lack the incentive to conduct research where the potential payoff is intangible or (in the present case) might lie years in the future. So of course embryonic stem cells haven't yielded results yet, because they are burdened by an overrestrictive research environment nationally. In states like Michigan, which outright prohibits research, the effect is absolutely stifling.

The MORAL reason to support this initiative.

Many conservative religious groups oppose embryonic stem cell research on a similar premise to their objection to abortion; life begins at conception, they argue, and it is an audacity against God and human dignity to exploit embryonic stem cells for medical profit, especially when it is fatal to the embryo. Hence the same blog I cited above argues:

This is where I need to bring up a key flaw in the whole debate over embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). You have the camp who opposes ESCR because they believe that life begins at conception, and I fall into this camp. Then you have the camp who argues, “But they’re going to be discarded anyway.” And this is where the ESCR opposition has somewhat failed. Many don’t address this issue and simply say, “Well, we shouldn’t be doing research on them.” That’s not the point. The point needs to be that instead of making EXTRA embryos for in vitro fertilization, we should be making embryos AS NEEDED. Sure, it’s costlier, but it doesn’t create embryos that will be destroyed.

Again, this argument is misinformed, both medically and economically. First, it is impossible to fertilize any egg without destroying thousands, if not millions of sperm. Second, the range of methods for extracting eggs, whether through induced ovulation or other methods are extremely expensive and often compromise the health of the donor. Quite simply, the presence, activity, and effectiveness of any fertility industry presumes that there will be more embryos than can ever be brought to term. It is a nod to sentiment here that the proposal limits the period during which stem cells can be harvested to 14-days of division, a time at which cells are still largely undifferentiated. But if one is making the argument that no more embryos may be conceived than can be brought to term, that must ultimately be a response to fertility treatment in general.

This is, however, the only argument that isn't mired in contradiction.
As long as there are extra embryos, they will be disposed of by some means because they cannot be brought to term. This is a reality that cannot be negated by any state constitution. And yet I rarely hear about concientious opposition to fertility treatment per se.

It is ironic, then, that religious arguments predicated upon the sacredness of life, impede the sustainment of life without a tangible benefit to anyone. The diseases that embryonic stem cells might one day treat are uniquely debilitating and fatal. Christians, including Catholics like myself, need to remember that prudence is a cardinal virtue. We are often forced to live as best we can in an imperfect world. I would argue that it is imprudent to renounce the opportunity to save actual human lives in exchange for an abstract "moral" victory that is hollow because it saves nobody in turn.

The ECONOMIC reason to support this initiative.

Michigan perennial zeitgeist (and where else would such a term even work?) is that its economy is in an unending freefall.

Many opponents of this bill say that it will result in new taxes; in fact the bill does prepare this debate, but it is itself silent on the subject of funding. Now: non-embryonic stem-cell research receives funding in the state; would it be unreasonable to offer financial support to some of the most promising medical research of a generation? It needn't inflate the state budget; again conservatives like to point out the many achievements of adult stem-cell technology... some of that funding could be shifted to embryonic stem-cell research. There are numerous options that will be on the table, but this proposal does not commit any taxpayer money to support the research itself.

In this and many economic arguments, fiscal conservatives tend to overemphasize the importance of taxes overall. As reasonable Hoosiers might tell you, for example, low taxes are a cold comfort when the economy is so bad that you've little income to be taxed, and this is where Michigan really has to think straight about this bill. Members of both parties seek to promote Michigan's economy by bringing in the kind high-tech jobs that are worthy successors of an ailing automotive industry. But if we look at the parts of the country where these industries have thrived -- California and the Pacific Northwest for example -- they are generally found in an environment where openness to technology and technological innovation has thrived. In fact this seems to be at least or more important than the rate of taxation. Sometimes (gasp!) investment opportunity trumps taxation.

The problem is so multivalent that it is difficult to summarize.

For example, some casualties are conspicuous. As the Detroit Free Press states in its endorsement of the proposal, "one clear loss is the departure of some prominent researchers from the University of Michigan -- where stem cell research is the most vigorous -- because of the ban." Thus Michigan loses the opportunity for such a faculty to draw private and pharmaceutical investment to Michigan through the establishment of amicable research.

Not all liabilities are so conspicuous, however. For example, endowments and funding tend to flow to colleges and universities where the most exciting research is happening. Michigan's top research institutions are uniquely positioned in terms of faculty, facilities, and location to be leaders in the country. Increased endowments often mean, among other things, greater resources for tuition assistance. The consequences of the present, unilateral ban are precipitous.

In short, it is always reasonable to consider another point-of-view, but there simply is not rigorous traction to be held against this proposal. The initiative is carefully worded, maintains protections on human dignity and the status and use of embryonic stem cells, while also being robust enough to make a meaningful change. I've outlined some of the scientific, moral, and economic arguments to support the proposal above, but there are many more. The proposal has been endorsed by both major Detroit newspapers and many others, President Bill Clinton, Senator Carl Levin, Governor Jennifer Granholm. Notably both Presidential candidates support the promotion embryonic stem-cell research.

You can contribute to the effort to pass Michigan's Proposal 2 here.

You can help promote the proposal here.

You can find out where you can get a yard sign here.

This proposal marks Michigan's best opportunity this election to set encourage an emerging precedent in the region, and most importantly, to improve the standard of living for its own citizens.

Vote YES on Proposal 2.

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