Legislating science

From DNA testing to stem cell research, President George W. Bush made recent announcements regarding his views on scientific issues. He did so without the guidance of a scientific adviser, and appears to be allowing political instincts to make most of his decisions. Bush generally takes a traditionally conservative approach, yet he surprisingly supports one point that seems to go against his customary loyalties. Only time will tell if Bush’s views on these controversial issues will become law.

In a radio address made earlier this week, Bush revealed he supports limiting the use of DNA testing to deny medical coverage or employment. Insurance companies and employers that see genetic tests as a way to predict medical risk were undoubtedly surprised by Bush’s announcement. Despite the president’s usual backing of corporate interests, he supports the rights of individuals to not be held accountable for their genetic makeup. DNA should not hinder people’s opportunities, and employers and insurers should not be allowed to discriminate based on an individual’s genetic code. Legislation needs to be completed to ensure that there is a standard practice concerning genetic information.

The Bush administration also advocates the strictest laws regarding human cloning. Bush favors a bill making any human cloning a federal crime, including cloning human embryos for research purposes. Ethical and moral concerns play into the cloning debate, and many bioethicists are still weighing possible implications and potential benefits. Human cloning is generally an ambiguous area because many disagree as to when an embryo becomes a human being. Prohibiting private researchers as well as federally funded ones from cloning embryos would prevent scientists from fully exploring the field and making meaningful discoveries. An embryo develops into a fetus after eight weeks, but the National Institute of Health suggests no embryo research be conducted after the 18th day. Researchers should be allowed to clone embryos for scientific study as long as they are not allowed to fully develop.

Part of the reason embryo research is so vital for scientific research is stem cells. Bush opposes this type of research that could develop cures for a variety of incapacitating diseases. It is quite clear that Bush’s anti-abortion and religious views are playing into his decision. However, it seems unfair to the millions of Americans suffering from diseases that more rights and protection are being given to a much less significant grouping of cells. Bush must reconsider his views on embryo cloning and stem cell research for the good of the American public.

It is time for Bush to take more seriously the role science can play in policy. His administration seems to have finally selected a science adviser, a position Bush should have filled much earlier. A science adviser can be a vital part of an administration, helping to fill the gaps in knowledge. Bush should not have been neglecting this position, and with issues such as missile defense, global warming and stem cells, it is clear that Bush will need an adviser to help him with the tough decisions he faces in the future.