Sunday, July 03, 2005

MSM Discovers Frist-Flop ... Finally!

If you've been reading this blog for very long, you've probably seen one of the many posts in which I've mentioned the difficulties faced by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist when the Senate takes up a bill to expand federal funding for stem cell research (on embros that would otherwise be destroyed). Since a post on May 26 ("Frist Flip-Flops on Stem Cells") I have repeatedly noted how Frist made a big deal in 2001 of supporting funding for research on such embryos - in his "Frist Principles on Stem Cell Research," released July 18 of that year (press release), Frist lists as one of his principles "Allow federal funding for research using only those embryonic stem cells derived from blastocysts that are left over after in vitro fertilization (IVF) and would otherwise be discarded."

Finally, after more than a month, a mainstream source has come across this story: the Washington Post's Ceci Connolly has an A5 article on it in today's edition. "Frist Again at the Center of Stem Cell Fight," the headline reads, with a subtitle below "As Senate Vote Looms, Surgeon Shies Away From Advocacy He Expressed in 2001." It begins:

"On July 18, 2001, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) stood on the Senate floor urging his colleagues to buck conservative orthodoxy and support federally funded research on embryonic stem cells. As the Senate's only physician, Frist made headlines - and gave momentum to the controversial science - with his endorsement. ...

Today, Frist is again at the center of the stem cell battle. Unlike four years ago, when he sought an influential role, the Senate majority leader has shied away from the issue, frustrating once-admiring researchers and patient advocates who now accuse him of exchanging sound medical thinking for with political calculations."

Connolly's article goes on to quote several stem-cell research advocates who said they found Frist's support heartening back in 2001, and are very confused as to why he's backed off now. "I thought he was for stem cell research, but ever since Bush got involved, he's gone all wishy-washy," says Tennessee Parkinson's Action Network volunteer Anne Shockley. "It makes no sense. He's a physician; he knows what stem cell research can be. It seems to me it's become a political football, and it's frustrating."

The article notes that Frist refused three requests for interviews on the subject; to one request, a spokesman would say only that Frist planned to bring up the measure sometime in July. Connolly does an excellent job analyzing the speech Frist made back in 2001 announcing his support for stem cell research and the principles he stated as conditions for federal funding. Those principles have fallen by the wayside over the past four years: two weeks ago, Connolly notes, Frist said "I agree with the president's policy" of opposing additional funding for research into embyronic stem cells.

It's very pretty exciting to see someone finally get ahold of this story and run with it, even if it has taken over a month. I hope other places pick it up now and run with it, and expose Frist's flop for what it is - nothing more than transparent political pandering to oppnents of stem cell research. He's a doctor, he ought to know better. He did in 2001, but now I'm afraid visions of 2008 sugarplums are dancing in his head. Wake up, doctor - the country needs the old you back.

A few of my previous posts on this story:
- "Frist Flip-Flops on Stem Cells" (5/26)
- "Frist Press Release Mysteriously Missing" (5/27)
- "More on the Frist-Flop" (5/28)
- "Stem Cells & Bill Frist" (5/31)
- "Senate Stem Cell Debate: Coming Soon" (6/17)
- "Senate Stem Cell Deal Close" (6/30)


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