Obama Might Save Some of us from Alzheimer’s

George W. Bush set stem cell research back 8 years and violated the principle of the separation of church and state by issuing what was essentially executive-branch legislation that imposed on a whole country Bush’s religious views. Bush’s move had no principle of popular sovereignty behind it. And likely he didn’t even really believe the doctrines he was imposing on us.

We don’t know the full potential of stem cells. Let’s just posit, for instance, that scientists might be able to figure out a way to use them to cure Alzheimer’s. Nancy Reagan was delighted at Obama’s move precisely because she thinks it might, and she saw what the disease did to the former President.

What you might not realize is that if that turns out to be true, Bush will have destroyed millions of lives. Because about half of all those seniors who live past 85 get Alzheimers. Baby boomers are likely to live in large numbers into an advanced age. And as it is, an estimated 10 percent will fall victim to Alzheimer’s.

In fact, by 2010 there will be nearly 500,000 new cases a year, and in the foreseeable future there will be a million new cases a year. That is, if Bush delayed the research 8 years, and if a cure really does come from that quarter, Bush will have condemned at least 4 million persons to the debilitating disease.

Although some alternatives to embryonic stem cells have been explored, we won’t know without a lot of experimentation whether they really are useful alternatives. Science is, uh, about experimentation.

For some important number of persons, the discovery may come 8 years too late. Because of Bush. When the Federal government frowns on research, it has a chilling effect on it even if some private concerns try to continue with it. I personally think we should change the name of Alzheimer’s to “Bush’s.”

Anyway, Barack Obama has restored scientific integrity to public policy on this issue by lifting Bush’s theological prohibition.

P. Z. Myers takes the occasion to explain how science works to people who are fundamentally opposed to free inquiry.

The stem cells to be used for this research come from the 600,000 embryos every year that are produced in the US for in vitro fertilization attempts, and which are discarded anyway. Although some on the right say that these eggs can be implanted in women and raised as children, only 60 a year or so are “adopted.” That means that all those religious persons who say that they believe that human life begins at conception are hypocrites, standing idly by and allowing a virtual holocaust to occur annually, since they are not adopting these frozen embryos and raising them. They also don’t put filters on their toilets to try to save the millions of embryos that prematurely detach from the uterus wall in very early miscarriages, some of which scientists might be able to somehow save if the proper precautions were taken. I mean, if millions of adults were drowned in toilets annually, wouldn’t we put in special safety procedures to stop it from happening?

I think the likelihood is that the strange new doctrine of life beginning at conception is mainly intended to keep women barefoot and pregnant, since no obvious heroic measures are actually being taken by any significant number of believers to save the embryos.

The belief that life begins at conception is recent, irrational, and has frankly highly impractical consequences.

Luckily, American society is becoming less fanatical about these matters, with 15 percent now saying they have no religion (double the pecentage of 20 years ago) and only 76% saying they are “Christian” (down from 86% in the early 90s) Religion is fine if it is open-minded, tolerant and spiritual– i.e. when it doesn’t insist on imposing itself on others. Narrow-minded dogmatism and busybody puritanism are among the world’s worst scourges.

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