Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Heresy trials," Aug. 18, 2001

Bush: Fund research on stem-cell lines from embryos, but only from those already destroyed
Stem-cell line in the sand
In a televised speech to the nation, George W. Bush on August 9 announced a three-part conclusion to months of deliberation on embryonic stem-cell research. First, the president announced he would support federal funding for research on more than 60 existing lines of stem cells from embryos already destroyed-"where the life-and-death decision has already been made"-but was not funding the destruction of any new embryos. Second, he noted that "great scientific progress can be made through aggressive federal funding of research on umbilical cord, placenta, adult and animal stem cells, which do not involve the same moral dilemma. This year your government will spend $250 million on this important research." Third, he announced that a group of scientists, ethicists, lawyers, and theologians will make up a White House council on stem-cell research. The council will be asked to recommend guidelines and regulations for stem-cell research and to consider medical and ethical ramifications. The council will be chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, who has written of "the wisdom of repugnance." That means we know, deep down, that it is ugly to create human embryos in order to experiment on them. Dr. Kass reportedly had advised President Bush to fund only research on stem cells obtained from adults, which may turn out to be as valuable as those obtained from embryos. President Bush will have the National Institutes of Health set up a registry to insure that stem-cell lines used for federally funded research were given with the informed consent of the donors, were excess embryos for reproductive purposes, and were not gained through any financial inducement. Federal funding is not expected to be approved before the registry is completed early next year. In a sentence that is likely to be analyzed intensely, President Bush said his decision "allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem-cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life." Focus on the Family leader James Dobson said more review would be needed, but suggested cautious support for the president, as did Jerry Falwell. National Right to Life Committee spokeswoman Laura Echevarria announced, "We are delighted that President Bush's decision prevents the federal government from becoming a party to any further killing of human embryos for medical experimentation." But former presidential candidate Alan Keyes said that the president "put principle on the pathway to extinction." He said that if the initial research is promising, pressure for more embryos will grow. Sen. Sam Brownback, a leading opponent of cloning and embryo-destroying research, also suggested Mr. Bush had crossed a barrier that leaned toward treating life as property, rather than life. During the presidential campaign, candidate Bush pledged to oppose embryo-destroying research. He repeated that position in a May 18 letter to the Culture of Life Foundation: "I oppose Federal funding for stem-cell research that involves destroying living human embryos." Administration officials insisted after the speech that the campaign promise was not broken, but critics complained of the kind of parsing the Clinton White House made famous: the approved research doesn't destroy embryos, it only benefits from embryos destroyed before we were involved. In recent weeks, Mr. Bush held Oval Office discussions late in the day on the stem-cell issue, so they could run long. Discussions included Leon Kass, Catholic church leaders, Dr. John Mendelsohn of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center, embryo-destruction opponents from the National Right to Life Committee, and destruction proponents from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Only top aides Karen Hughes, Andrew Card and Karl Rove witnessed the discussions, described as deep and probing. Florida judge orders Terri Schiavo's feeding tube removed
Fatal ruling
A Florida judge ruled last week that Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose parents have fought since 1997 to keep her alive ("Till death us do part," July 21), should be legally dehydrated until dead. Ruling on an 11th-hour appeal by Mrs. Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer said the parents did not prove their daughter has a significant chance of recovering brain function, or that her husband perjured himself during an earlier trial when he said that Mrs. Schiavo would not want to be kept alive artificially. Judge Greer ordered Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube removed on August 28. Without the tube, Mrs. Schiavo will die within weeks. Mrs. Schiavo suffered a heart attack in 1990 that stopped the flow of blood to her brain, leaving her permanently brain damaged. Her husband Michael Schiavo had since 1997 sought to have her feeding tube removed, claiming she had, while healthy, said she would not want to live "hooked up to tubes" if disabled. But the only tube Mrs. Schiavo is hooked to is the one providing her nutrition-and she is hooked to that because a test conducted eight years ago showed that she could not swallow on her own. The Schindlers charged that Mr. Schiavo actually wanted their daughter dead so he could inherit his wife's $700,000 medical fund and marry a woman with whom he'd been having a long-term affair. In a trial last year, Judge Greer ruled in favor of Mr. Schiavo, but a series of appeals-to a Florida appellate court, the U.S. Supreme Court, and back again-led to Judge Greer's final ruling last week. Though the mainstream press labels Mrs. Schiavo "comatose" without further elaboration, her regular visitors say that she responds when people speak to her, and that she laughs, cries, and opens her eyes during the day. Comedy Central cancels That's My Bush!
Taking out the trash
Comedy Central has quietly canceled That's My Bush!, a satirical sitcom from the creators of South Park. Only eight episodes were produced of the show, which was very expensive for cable-costing about $1 million an episode. "Financially we can't move forward with it," said spokeswoman Lisa Chader, who called the show a creative and critical success, if not a commercial one. WORLD called it disgraceful ("Trashing the First Family," Jan. 20). Co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren't giving up on the spoof, however. They are now pitching the concept as a movie tentatively titled George W. Bush and the Secret of the Glass Tiger. The plot is still being developed but would involve a Chinese invasion of America foiled by the president, Mr. Stone said. Meanwhile, Comedy Central plans to continue running its eight episodes of the TV show as reruns. Cable network revamps in light of competition
The changing face of CNN
Is this the new look of TV news? CNN's Headline News relaunched with only a quarter of the screen devoted to anchors and news clips. The channel uses the rest for stock prices, weather maps, and headlines; it looks like a moving Web page. The change may be the most visible in the CNN networks' ongoing attempts to boost audiences. Headline News receives surprisingly low ratings. Even though it runs on cable systems nationwide, it only averages about 140,000 viewers per night in prime time, according to second-quarter Nielsen ratings. Now as many as six anchors will be on the network's new set, including former NYPD Blue actress Andrea Thompson, on the constantly repeating newscast billed as "Real News, Real Fast." Right now, CNN faces an aging audience that is being divided up among numerous competitors, including the Web. Time Inc. veteran Walter Isaacson moved within AOL Time Warner to become CEO of the CNN News Group last July. In recent months the main network has brought back Lou Dobbs as host of Moneyline, launched a nightly talk show with Jeff Greenfield, and prepared a new nightly newscast. Roll Call reported that Mr. Isaacson went to Capitol Hill to meet with GOP leaders to discuss CNN's image with conservatives. "I was trying to reach out to a lot of Republicans who feel that CNN has not been as open covering Republicans, and I wanted to hear their concerns," he told the paper. "I definitely did not say, 'How do we attract the conservative viewer?'" -Chris Stamper Survey: Investors are ignorant
Blind trust
Most people who buy and sell stock lack basic knowledge of how investing works. In a market downturn like this one, that can spell trouble. SIPC, the industry insurance fund that protects investors from brokerage bankruptcies, reported that four of five investors surveyed failed to answer basic questions correctly. The topics concerned how to handle fraud, how to deal with problem brokers, and how limit orders and margin accounts work. Less than one in five investors polled knew that no insurance covers stock-market losses or losses from investment fraud. Many expected the SEC or the FDIC to protect them against losses. The report comes as some investors have taken legal action against brokers, claiming they were misled by ultra-bullish recommendations. For example, some claim celebrity analyst Mary Meeker burned them when she touted Amazon.com and eBay. Department of Education study profiles homeschool families
The education frontier
About 850,000 of America's 50 million schoolchildren are being taught at home, according to a major study released by the Education Department. The reported number of homeschooled kids is still a small minority-1.7 percent of all American children in 1999-but is higher than past figures. A 1996 report estimated 640,000 homeschoolers, which was still higher than the 360,000 children projected by the Census Bureau in 1994. The typical homeschool family is not more affluent than non-homeschooled, but they tend to be more educated. The vast majority earn less than $50,000 per year, and many earn less than $25,000. The report said they made their decision for reasons including "being able to give their child a better education at home, for religious reasons, and because of a poor learning environment as school." The telephone survey of 52,278 households found that 88 percent of homeschooled kids live in two-parent homes, compared to 66 percent of other kids. Also, 52 percent of homeschooled families have only one parent in the work force, compared to only 19 percent of the non-homeschooled. "These are families that have one income, and have sacrificed to live on one income," said Home Education Network president Laura Derrick.

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