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The Left Pushes Secular Religions: Global Warming, Embryonic Stem Cell Research

By Michael Barone, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

It seems to me that many on the cultural left are, while secular when it comes to conventional religion, very much believers in something that might be called secular religions--the religion of global warming, the religion of embryonic stem-cell research.

My Creators Syndicate column discusses the Obama budget and how it caters to the religion of global warming by imposing huge costs on what now is an ailing economy in order to fight disasters which we are told will strike us--we area told that there can be no argument--you must have faith!--40 or 50 years from now.

As for embryonic stem-cell research, Charles Krauthammer with the deftness of one who originally aspired to be a surgeon eviscerates Barack Obama's statement on the topic. Krauthammer notes that George W. Bush sensitively treated, while Obama entirely ignored, the issue of ethical limits on this kind of medical research. The editors of the Washington Post make the same point. There are some things we don't permit researchers to do--Dr. Mengele's experiments, the Tuskegee program--even though they might produce useful knowledge. The question is where to draw the line. Bush explored the issue, set out the arguments for and against drawing the line at forbidding federal funding (but permitting other funding) of embryonic stem-cell research. Obama ignores the line-drawing question, suggests that there is no line-drawing problem altogether.

I'm continually amazed how in the debate on embryonic stem-cell research its advocates speak as if this were the only kind of medical research being conducted. Thus you have state governments like California and Missouri (and but for a negative referendum vote, New Jersey) going into the very non-state-government-like business of medical research with big bucks. Does it ever occur to them to fund other kinds of medical research?

An opinion article by my American Enterprise Institute colleague Scott Gottlieb puts this into intelligent perspective. We have two huge sources of funding for medical research: the National Institutes of Health, which funds all kinds of theoretical research, and the pharmaceutical companies, which fund market-oriented medical research. We need both. NIH funds many different types of medical research, and NIH funding was doubled between 1999 and 2004, a bipartisan project shepherded by Sens. Arlen Specter and Tom Harkin and supported by the Clinton and Bush administrations. Although some scientists claim that research is being underfunded now, we can be pretty sure that NIH funding is pretty robust. Plus, nonprofits fund much medical research (though unfortunately some of them lost all their funds to Bernard Madoff). The pharmaceutical company model, however, is on hard times. Research is funded by profits from patented prescription medicines, but patents are about to expire on some big-ticket items (like Pfizer's Lipitor) and there seem to be relatively few replacements coming through FDA's regulatory pipeline. My sense is that pharmaceutical research faces more serious funding problems than embryonic stem-cell research. But whether that is the case or not, can we all just recognize that embryonic stem-cell research is not the only medical research going on with potential to cure terrible diseases? And can we recognize that there have to be some ethical limits to scientific research, even while we engage in reasoned debate about just what those limits should be?

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By Michael Barone

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