Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Confederacy of Dunces

This is what the American university has come to.

When faced with questions so fraught with scientific, moral and ethical complexities as embryonic stem-cell research, top brass of the University of Nebraska now have been reduced to making arguments they wouldn't accept from their teen-agers for even a nanosecond.

"But DAAAAAAAAD, all the cool kids are doing it!"

"But DAAAAAAAAD, Malia and Sasha's dad says it's OK!"

"But DAAAAAAAAD, everybody will make fun of me! You're making me into a laughingstock!"

"But DAAAAAAAAD, it's not like I bought the beer with a fake ID. All I did was have two or three of them."

"But DAAAAAAAAD, everybody's going to the party. If I don't go . . . Gawwwwwd, I'll be hated. Nobody will be my friend."

I THINK that covers all the arguments made by NU President J.B. Milliken and others in favor of expanding embryonic stem-cell research at the university's med center in Omaha. From the Omaha World-Herald:

University of Nebraska scientists don't need formal approval from the Board of Regents to expand their work with human embryonic stem cells, NU President J.B. Milliken said Friday.

Citing an Oct. 2 legal opinion from the university's general counsel, Milliken said existing state and federal laws, as well as university policy, allow scientists to use new lines of embryonic stem cells, once they are approved by the National Institutes of Health.

After more than an hour of public comment on the topic during a Board of Regents meeting, Milliken recommended that the board let current policy stand.

“Embryonic stem cell research holds enormous promise, and if the University of Nebraska is to be a leading research university, it should be appropriately engaged in this research,” he said.

“To do otherwise would unnecessarily limit the opportunities for discoveries to save and improve lives. It would also risk great harm to the reputation of the university and damage our ability to recruit and retain outstanding research and clinical faculty.”

Milliken said Friday that the regents had had the opportunity for review during the past several months and that he was now prepared to open the door to expanded research. He said the board has three options: affirm the existing policy, revise it or do nothing.

The Milliken recommendation upset anti-abortion advocates.

Since the Obama administration announced a change in the federal guidelines last spring, abortion opponents have been urging regents to “draw a line in the sand” to stop NU scientists from embarking on expanded research involving cells derived from human embryos that would otherwise be discarded.

“This is unbelievable what was stated here today,” said Chip Maxwell, executive director of the Nebraska Coalition for Ethical Research. “It's not for the president or any administrator to set this policy.”

Regents Chairman Kent Schroeder said the board probably will take up the issue at its November meeting.

Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, said she and other abortion opponents will continue to urge the regents to reject expanded embryonic stem cell research.

“I will be here,” she said of the November meeting.

The regents agreed to take public comment on the research after anti-abortion groups announced that they planned to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The 12 people testifying in favor of the research included Omaha philanthropist Richard Holland, who is founder and chairman of the pro-research group Nebraskans for Lifesaving Cures; Lynne Boyer, daughter of the late Charles Durham, whose family has donated tens of millions of dollars to build research towers on the NU Medical Center campus; and Rik Bonness, a former Husker All-American football player whose two sons have Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes.
OH . . . I FORGOT an important instance of NU leadership's unleashing of its inner 15-year-old. "I'll do what I want, and you can't stop me."

But frankly, my gut tells me all you have to know about the university's willingness to scrap a hard-won cease-fire between it and Nebraska pro-life groups is this: Holland and Durham. The University of Nebraska, like most of us pathetic creatures, adheres unswervingly to the Golden Rule.

He who has the gold, rules.

It's embarrassing. And I'm not referring to the regents' potential for doing something that causes all the other cool scientists not to want to play with the little Cornhuskers anymore.

No, what's embarrassing is that a pre-eminent university can wade into a moral and ethical quagmire and think the mere spouting of inanities -- ones, in fact, barely worthy of teen-agers who act "young" for their age -- is enough to let it emerge without a lungful of fetid water.

What's embarrassing is that newspaper columnists such as the World-Herald's Robert Nelson can graduate from UNL and still think an effective column in favor of the university's stem-cell stance is little more than calling pro-lifers "zealots" and "rabble." Oh . . . that and regurgitating the party line -- if the Board of Regents gives in to the zealous rabble, that all the cool kids won't play with us anymore, blah blah blah, ad infinitum.

C'mon, I went to LSU, and I couldn't be that all-out dumb even after finishing off a couple of fifths of Early Times.

YOU WANT SCIENCE? I'll give you some basic biology.

Embryos are the result of the union of the female egg and the male sperm. When implanted into the womb and left alone (other than being given nourishment), they naturally grow into fetuses, and fetuses ultimately become (given enough academic degrees and fed enough bulls***) presidents of state universities spouting inanities to elected officials.

At what point do you say "not human, not human, not human, not human . . . AH! HUMAN! Can't gratuitously dissect it anymore!"? That is a question scientists have proven themselves unequipped to answer.

That's the realm of philosophers, theologians and clergy. That's "heavy" stuff, and the University of Nebraska should be ashamed -- in its cavalier handling of the weightiest material -- to have been revealed as such a collection of ethical and mental lightweights.

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