Sunday, July 31, 2005

Stem-Cell Politics, With a Jersey Twist

The national attention has been on Bill Frist's stem-cell change of opinion. But New Jersey's rekindled debate on the issue represents a microcosm of the national fight. To begin with, who even knew that the debate was still ongoing in this state? More than a year ago, then-Governor McGreevey signed legislation establishing a state-funded stem-cell research center - the first of its kind in the country. Today, 14 months later, little visible progress has been made on the institute and the groundbreaking ceremony at Rutgers University scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed indefinitely, and it isn't because of the weather forecast.

The State Assembly didn't appropriate the $150 million needed to build the center and get it going after the Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 21-14. There are questions of excess. Even Assembly Democrats who favor the center are opposed to the cost of construction and would that the $150 million goes towards actual research, and not the facility that will house the research. Neil Cohen, a Union County Assemblyman, helped create a research foundation with UMDNJ and NJIT that has already begun to raise money. "We can start tomorrow at N.J.I.T.," Mr. Cohen was quoted as saying in today's New York Times. "Harvard is putting all their money into getting researchers, not into stained glass windows, carpets, oriental rugs and chandeliers." Still, one gets the sense that, given the nature of the fight and the issue that it's over, construction costs aren't really what's holding this up.

There's fear among Democrats here that Republicans could make this a referrendum item, putting it on the ballot as Republicans in 11 states did last November with the same-sex marriage issue, and bringing out the right-wing voters en masse. Stem-cell research, an apolitical issue, is essentially being used as a political football. Deep Thought makes a great observation about the recent history of government-supported science, saying "when we think of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the past century-- the splitting of the atom, landing a man on the moon, the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, all of these were accomplished with the support of government, not of private industry."

Who has some insight on when Republicans in government - and it is mainly Republicans - will leave religious philosophy and "morality" behind and come onto the side of science and, not to mention, public opinion? Since when is life-preserving and live-saving research not a part of the "culture of life"?


At 2:26 PM, Blogger Mr. Snitch said...

There was an article in Wired earlier this year (I could look it up if you're interested) on a scientist who was trying to bring his 'religious right' colleagues into a place of agreement in this area. He was shown making some progress as well. (Aside: Wired is a remarkable magazine, unafraid to challenge its readers' core assumptions. No panderers they.) The problem here, at least in the media, is nearly always framed the way you have framed it: Those damned idiots on the right who are wrong (and don't really care about people the way we do) are standing in the way of progress. And that stance is the real problem. As far as the people being demonized ('religious zealots') are concerned, they are the only ones concerned with life. Life that cannot speak up and defend itself, from their view. So everyone gets dug in and no progress gets made. Want change? Step one is doing what this guy did - understand and respect the other side. No sign of a media shift that massive on the horizon, though, so look for a long continued impasse.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Jack said...

Good point. If Democrats want to get Stem Cell research through, they need to de-emphasize the "science over religion" argument and educate people on the practice. Most people don't understand it, and what they need to understand is that embryos are not killed in the process. These are embryos that literally would be thrown in garbage cans otherwise. Until stem cell supporters, including Frist, explain this, people will continue to feel insecure about the issue.

However, the vast majority of americans support it.

- Jack


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