Friday, August 27, 2010

Dicky Wicked

On Tuesday, I ranted about the horrid decision to grant a preliminary injunction halting federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. Yesterday, the center-left editorial board of the Los Angeles Times issued a more rational response to the federal judge's decision, and mostly got it right.

Every year since 1996, Congress has routinely attached the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to appropriations bills, thus forbidding the federal government from funding "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed." President George W. Bush issued an executive order interpreting this to mean that it was all right to fund research on stem-cell lines that had been created before 2001, but not after. His interpretation was broadened by President Obama, who separated the research into two parts: It would still be illegal to fund the creation of new stem-cell lines, which involves destroying embryos, but the government could award grants to researchers doing work on lines created by privately funded scientists practicing strict ethical standards.

The president's motives were admirable, but as U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled Monday, Obama's order subverted the will of Congress. It takes a logical leap to separate research on stem-cell lines from the creation of those lines, sort of like saying it's OK to do illegal research on monkeys as long as somebody else catches the animals for you. It wasn't enough for Obama to issue an executive order; he also should have pressured Congress to strip out the Dickey-Wicker Amendment — or to codify his interpretation of it.

I am not so certain that Judge Lamberth's decision was all that logical, but even I admit that to some extent his reasoning had merit. Congress has indeed continued to shore up the Dickey-Wicker amendment by sticking it into appropriation bills year after year. It's as if even Democrats are comfortable with the inane theories that a few cells equal a living, breathing person and should be accorded even more rights. Those inane theories, by the way, are not grounded in science but rather in the religious beliefs of some on the far right.

Polls suggest that most Americans are in favor of embryonic stem cell research with reasonable ethical guidelines. The potential rewards for those already-born persons with debilitating diseases are too great to ignore. Yet Congress routinely extends Dickey-Wicker each year, including the last four during which Democrats held the majority.

That can be remedied if the White House and Congress actually pay attention and remove the amendment from the catalogue of stupid and evil laws passed because most people aren't paying attention to what they vote on. It's here that the Los Angeles Time gets it right:

The Justice Department is rightly appealing the injunction. Meanwhile, Congress should get rid of Dickey-Wicker, which polls show is opposed by a majority of Americans.

To get that done, the White House is going to have to exert real pressure, not the polite kind the President seems stuck in, on Congress. It would also help if we also joined the fray and dashed off a few well-chosen words to our Congress Critters demanding the same.

Just do it.

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