May 29, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

GOP reps to Trump: fire NIH Director Collins for stem cell research support

Should there be a religious or moral litmus test for the NIH Director?

A few dozen super conservative Republican members of Congress have written a letter to President Trump saying he should fire NIH Director Francis Collins.

Why?

Because they claim that Collins is not conservative enough for their taste and in particular they don’t like his support of embryonic stem cell research funding.

You can read the actual letter here and see text in a clip from it below where religion is invoked. Does that mean that if the NIH Director was not a Christian that they would hold it against him/her? It sure sounds that way.Francis Collins fire letter

These Republicans argue in the letter that Dr. Collins is not ‘pro-life’ enough or perhaps moral enough for them so they are telling Trump to fire him. There is no scientific or even logical basis for this proposed action. In fact, this is about as anti-science as it can get. It’s not just putting politics over science, it is also trying to put one religious viewpoint over others and over science.
Gallup Poll embryonic stem cells

Dr. Collins’ views on embryonic stem cells are in reality not extreme as they are in line with those of most Americans and scientists. Americans generally have become more supportive of embryonic stem cell research in the past 10-15 years and this consistently shows up in most polls on the topic. For example, in a 2013 Pew poll greater than 2/3 of Americans either voiced support for embryonic stem cell research or felt it wasn’t a moral issue at all. That’s decisive. A more recent Gallup poll is very clear too in terms of Americans favoring embryonic stem cell research by about a 2-1 margin. The fact is that these 41 GOP representatives are the extremists and are trying to force their views onto biomedical science.

Also note that the “human cloning” that is referenced in this letter is not reproductive human cloning (which is actually widely controversial), but rather somatic cell nuclear transfer that can be used to make patient-specific embryonic stem cell lines, which is sometimes referred to as “therapeutic cloning”. It is also worth giving a reminder that the embryos being discussed here are left over, blastocyst embryos from fertility procedures that would otherwise mostly be thrown away as biohazardous waste. Human blastocysts have only about 100 cells, are hard to see with the naked eye, and have no distinctly human features other than their DNA.

With Trump wanting to severely cut NIH funding in general and now these GOP representatives asking for a new, uber-conservative NIH Director who will likely put science itself as a low priority and their own specific religion first, it is even more important than ever that those of us who support science and specifically biomedical research let our voices be heard. I know many people of faith who support embryonic stem cell research and science more generally. We are stronger when we are united together as advocates. This research has concrete, future potential to help a lot of people as well as end suffering and ongoing early-phase clinical trials for conditions such as paralysis and blindness show promise.

Let’s put science, medicine, and patients first.

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