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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

 
Sunday's Washington Post's article, "Frist Again at the Center of Stem Cell Fight," details U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's about-face on stem-cell research:

On July 18, 2001, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) stood on the Senate floor urging his colleagues to buck conservative orthodoxy and support federally funded research on embryonic stem cells. As the Senate's only physician, Frist made headlines -- and gave momentum to the controversial science -- with his endorsement.

The following month, however, President Bush announced a policy that was far more restrictive, limiting federal research to already existing embryonic stem cells, and Frist acquiesced.

A few weeks after Bush announced his policy, Frist said the differences between the two were minor because scientists at the National Institutes of Health had "informed the president that more than 60 cell lines exist and that this number is sufficient to provide ample opportunity to research the potential of embryonic stem cells."


That Frist, himself a medical researcher and transplant surgeon, should change his mind based on informtion from Bush is ludicrous, especially when we look back just a few years:

Frist's 10-point stem cell proposal in the summer of 2001 was the result of extensive research, soul-searching and "20 years in the field of medicine and in science," he said. Describing himself as the "Senate's only physician and only medical researcher," he said he knew the promise and pitfalls of cutting-edge science. His 11-page speech on the "promising and important line of inquiry" addressed in detail a host of scientific and ethical questions, displaying an impressive command of the complex science and a doctor's ease with life-and-death issues.

This is a man who had extensively researched the topic and addressed to his own satisfaction the ethical issues involved. What happened?

I thought he was for stem cell research, but ever since Bush got involved, [Frist has] gone all wishy-washy," said Shockley, a volunteer for the Tennessee Parkinson's Action Network. "It makes no sense. He's a physician; he knows what stem cell research can be. It seems to me it's become a political football, and it's frustrating.

Frustating? Yes. Surprising? No.

Frist isn't the first to "change his mind" during this administration's reign of terror. From both houses of Congress to White House staff, there have been numerous instances of flip-flopping, particularly after visits with the president. Whether Frist's about-face was due to presidential intimidation or political ambition, it's still a real blow for those who counted on him to champion the cause of this important research. And the fact that he currently won't even address the issue makes his bail-out even more disillusioning.

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