I’ll post more on this at the end of the week, but I’m involved in an all-day intensive HBS course this week. Tonight we watched a documentary about the stem cell federal funding debate entitled The Accidental Advocate. Overall, I thought it was a fairly moving portrayal of one man’s struggle with spinal cord injury and his quest for a cure, but I’m not sure it fully evaluated the issues behind this contentious issue.
While I tend to be a bit more sympathetic towards stem cell “legalization”, I can understand the other side’s position. I don’t think most advocates do. The pro-argument tends to go: The embryos created for IVF are going to be destroyed anyway, so why not use them for research? To understand what the opposition believes, you need to replace the word “embryo” with “baby” and restate the argument. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research seem to believe two things:
- In-vitro Fertilization (IVF) results in the creation of 5-10 babies. Parents choose to keep one and slaughter the other 4-9. This is wrong.
- Allowing research on the babies instead of simply killing them takes advantage of an abhorrent practice.
If you look at it that way, it’s easier to understand the opposition. I don’t necessarily agree with this position, but I can understand that it’s a non-negotiable issue if you feel this way.
What I found more interesting from the whole stem cell discussion was that it didn’t seem to touch on the root cause of this problem: using the NIH for capital allocation. Let’s think for a second about how this mechanism works:
- Gov’t collects $$$ from researchers.
- These taxes fund the NIH.
- The NIH decides (politically) how to reallocate the $$$.
- Researchers complain about the allocation being political.
It seems like this whole stem-cell debate is a perfect opportunity to question the basic premise: why are we pushing these funds through a political machine instead of simply allowing each individual / company to use them as they see fit? Politically-motivated decisions are the only reason you would do so. If you want “the scientists” to decide instead of “the politicians” there’s no reason to push the funds through the NIH.
Do people honestly think that a handful of professional politicians can allocate funds more effectively than tens of thousands of scientists? Either way you feel about the stem cell issue, it seems like it would lead you to the same conclusion: Get the government out of scientific research funding.