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Posts Tagged ‘stem cell research’

Yesterday, President Obama announced that science is once again COOL!  He signed a memo declaring that science would guide decisions by his administration, not ideology.

And no sooner did he announce that than Eric Cantor came out blustering that taxpayer money would be wasted on unproven research.  One wonders whether Rep. Cantor is that ignorant, of if he is so cynical that he thinks the rest of us are.  Of course it’s unproven.  Research is, by definition unproven.  That’s why scientists do research — to discover new information and to prove their hypotheses.

By stating that science, not ideology, will guide decisions, President Obama has repudiated the previous administration’s penchant for using only those facts that support a pre-determined outcome.  Rather, as he expressed in the book Audacity of Hope, President Obama believes in assembling ALL the relevant facts, then overlaying one’s values atop the facts to determine the best policy application.  The key difference is in the relationship between facts, values, and policy outcome.

Nowhere is that difference more immediately apparent than in the new guidance on stem cell research.  Oh, the Republicans will trot out a few so-called “snowflake babies” — most probably impossibly adorable little blond-haired, blue-eyed girls — to garner our sympathy.  But, once again, let’s look at the facts behind the whole embryonic stem cell controversy.

The administration is not denying the potential for other sources of stem cells ultimately to carry the day.  It may well be that adult stem cells will prove the most effective source.  They have shown promise and are the source of such treatments as bone marrow transplants.  But we cannot know that for certain unless we investigate.  The previous administration pre-determined the outcome, choosing to ignore the importance of leaving open multiple paths to the desired end — that of finding treatment and cure for devastating injuries and diseases.  One can only wonder where we would be in that process had one avenue of research not been starved for dollars over the last eight years.

President Bush was clearly out of step with many in his own party, along with a majority in Congress and in the general public on this issue.  Congress tried to overturn the ban, only to have it vetoed.  But stem cell research was not the only area in which ideology trumped facts during the previous administration.  We know that government scientists, particularly those working in the areas of environmental protection and climate change were routinely required to report their conclusions in ways that supported policy rather than evidence.  Many of these scientists quit their jobs in disgust, but imagine the pressures on those who were trying to put kids through college at the time.  And the same twisting of truth occurred in the FDA.  How many food borne illnesses or drug safety issues might have been prevented if scientists were allowed to report their conclusions rather than shading them to conform to the ideology of political appointees?

Yes, science is cool again, and not a moment too soon.

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The new regulation has an appropriately Orwellian name — “right of conscience,” but the name apparently doesn’t apply to the rights or conscience of those who might seek certain legal, medically approved services.   Not surprisingly, the people who will be most affected are women, and especially women who live in rural areas.  The Bush Administration has issued a brand, spanking new and very wide-ranging regulation that has the potential to create chaos for Americans seeking health care.  Under this new regulation any person working in a health care facility — hospital, clinic, pharmacy, etc. — can refuse to do the job they were hired to do if so doing would violate their conscience.

Just think of the services that might include.  Abortion, of course, but also birth control, stem cell research, fertility treatments, antibiotics, blood transfusions, and those are just the most obvious. And it’s not limited to the person actually performing the procedure or service.  The person cleaning the medical instruments, the person stocking the pharmacy shelves, the person ringing up the sale, the person filing the insurance claim — all would have the right to refuse to participate.

And, unlike the previous regs, the person “of conscience” no longer has to inform their employer in advance so the employer can provide appropriate accommodation.  No longer is either the employer or employee obligated, either legally or otherwise, even to provide information that would allow a patient to make a fully informed choice on the ramifications of her condition or to provide information on alternate providers.  The part of this new regulation that seems the most capricious is that access to services and information will depend entirely on who happens to be on duty at the time.

There is no attempt at ensuring consistency.  No longer will patients have to choose providers based on competence, or even on whether the provider is connected to their insurance provider, but they will need to know the “conscience” of every person even tangentially involved to make sure they will have access to the medical services they seek. The question then arises — will we have access to that information?  And if the individuals are not required to reveal their beliefs to their employers, how can consumers be sure that some minor person — a cashier or a billing clerk — with no direct medical involvement won’t be able to control access, either before or after the fact.

I find this totally unacceptable.  It’s one thing to know that certain reproductive services won’t be available at a Catholic hospital.  One simply chooses a different hospital or clinic.  It’s one thing for an individual physician to refuse for reasons of conscience to perform abortions.  And I know physicians who do.  But they recognize that abortion is a legal medical procedures and so refer their patients to providers whose consciences don’t prohibit them from performing them.

Abortion is the most obvious reproductive service this new regulation affects.  But it also can apply to prescriptions for birth control, infertility treatments, and even rape kits that contain either information about or prescriptions for emergency birth control.  We know that the state of Alaska had to pass a law when one town began to charge rape victims for their rape kits because its mayor didn’t agree that women should be provided with INFORMATION about EBC.

Does the new regulation insist that “conscience” be linked to documented religious teaching?  Or does anyone now have the right simply to state that they are opposed, for whatever reason, to being even tangentially involved in a legal, legitimate medically approved procedure?

And if so, at what point do the rights and conscience of the consumer count?  As someone who lives in reasonable proximity to numerous doctors, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and the like, I would have options.  But what about consumers in rural areas where medical services are already limited by the size of the population being served?  If the only doctor in town or the only pharmacy in town has someone who doesn’t believe in birth control, where does that leave women?  Do they not become the prisoners of the conscience of the providers?

I am glad to read that the Obama team is looking at how and when to rescind this regulation.  It can’t happen soon enough.  Certainly, people have a right not to act against their beliefs.  But the consumers of medical services also have rights — at least they should!  This wide-ranging new regulation seems to place all the rights of conscience on the provide side of the equation and none on the consumer side.  A democratic system is designed to balance competing rights.  This regulation fails utterly in that task.

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