Monday, March 2, 2009

Did Bush Accidentally Do Something Right?

From the Washington Post comes a story that made me ask a question I normally think of as borderline oxymoronic: Did one of former President Bush's policies turn out unequivically right?

Scientists have made a breakthough that may obviate the need to destroy embryos to obtain stem cells. The procedure uses a stem cell alternative based on real genetic strands, which is a big improvement over the old alternative: using potentially lethal virus strains to generate materials that mimic embryonic stem cells.

This made me think: did Bush's ban on federal funding(*) of embryonic stem cell research force scientists to find an alternative that allows avoidance of the political and moral questions surrounding their use? If federal money had been used for embryonic stem cells, I am guessing this new technique would never have been found and we'd have a new debate as polarizing as abortion has been for the past 30-plus years.

I was opposed to Bush's order. I thought at the time (and still think) that embryonic stem cell research could hold the key to everything from slowing aging to curing cancer. At the very least it seemed worth investing in. I just wonder if Bush didn't save us all a big headache in forcing scientists to innovate. Hey, it's better to be lucky than good.

(*) Contrary to popular belief, Bush's order was not an outright ban on embryonic stem cell research. It stated that federal monies could only be spent in pursuit of research using the handful of already-in-use cell lines. Private money could do whatever the heck it wanted.

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