stem cell research

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Catholic Church Defends the Defenseless

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

In the wake of South Korea’s announcement that the country will remove some of its blocks to embryonic stem cell research, Pope Benedict spoke out against this area of scientific research. Part of his statement reads,

The destruction of human embryos, whether to acquire stem cells or for any other purpose, contradicts the purported intent of researchers, legislators and public health officials to promote human welfare.

Pope Benedict’s comments are important because they touch on an inconsistency that is rarely brought to the public eye: Those who favor embryonic stem cell research find themselves in a contradictory position, one of snuffing out one life in order to save another.

Only, the jury’s still out on whether embryonic stem cells will cure diseases like Parkinson’s, ALS, diabetes, and spinal cord injury. “Potential” is not a cure.

Granted, one day the potential may lead to a cure. What if it does? Does that change the status of the unborn?

We know how to cure kidney failure, a deadly and serious disease afflicting thousands of Americans. A kidney transplant will do the job. The problem is we don’t have an abundance of spare kidneys. They have to be donated, and donated kidneys are hard to come by. Why don’t we just commission kidneys like the police can do with the cars of private citizens? Nobody would support that idea because it infringes on human rights.

Kidney donation is not fatal (that is, if you have two kidneys). Embryonic stem cell research is. And until researchers discover a way to extract stem cells from embryos without destroying them, they should refrain from this kind of experimentation for the sake of human life.

Of course, my position assumes that life begins at conception. I realize that not everybody agrees with me. But I have spent a lot of time examining Scriptural, philosophical, and biological evidence. Do the supporters of abortion and embryonic stem cell research care to do the same? I doubt it. The fact that they press the issue so forcibly, making broad claims about causing the lame to walk again, betrays their unwarrented exuberance.

I have a lot of problems with the Pope, but in a debate such as this one, where those who argue for the sanctity of human life are often lost in the din of liberal social morality, he speaks with a voice that can be heard. I’m glad he is not afraid to speak out.

Frist’s Twist

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Last week, Senate majority leader Bill Frist expressed his support for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a controversial process that ends in the destruction of human embryos. Frist, who plans to run for president in 2008, is at odds with President Bush, who vetoed legislation earlier this year that would have supported experimentation on embryos produced through in vitro fertilization at taxpayers’ expense. Speaking of these embryos, the president said, “These boys and girls are not spare parts.”

Frist, who is also a medical doctor, maintains that his support of embryonic stem cell research does not in anyway compromise his pro-life position on abortion. After stating that he believes life begins at conception, he drew a parallel between what is happening to frozen embryos and the decisions that have to be made by doctors who perform heart-and-lung transplants:

“If the destiny of an embryo is to be discarded, or buried the next day, or thrown away, whatever words are used,” he said, “in the same way that I take a heart out of one individual to give another potential life, doesn’t it make sense to take three or four cells out of that embryo that would buried the next day, in order to give potential healing?”

The analogy does not alleviate Frist’s inconsistencies. First of all, organ-transplant doctors do not take healthy organs out of patients who have the potential for life. I’m an organ donor, and, as I understand it, my organs will not be used until every effort has been exhausted to save my life. Frozen embryos have the potential to live, making stem cell research a very different scenario than organ-transplant surgery.

Moreover, Frist’s role is that of a legislator in this case, not a physician. As a legislator, he has the power to write bills that could prohibit the discarding of these tiny human lives. (I’m using his definition of life.) Instead, Frist is using his influence to take us one more step away from rescuing these lives by stumping for laws that would allow experimentation upon them.

Another thing: Frist begs the question when he states that frozen embryos provide “potential healing” to patients suffering from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other incurable diseases. As of yet, there is no evidence that embryonic stem cell research holds the key to these ailments. Meanwhile, adult stem cell research, which does not involve the destruction of human life in anyway, has yielded numerous successes.

Hopefully, the Republican party will see through the rhetoric when it comes time to choose a candidate who will run for president in 2008. The next president will face many challenges. One of them will be the ethics of funding research that destroys human life. We need a man who will remain consistent, even if it means losing political capital. Bill Frist is not that man.

Foxy Ads for Democrats

Monday, October 30th, 2006

Michael J. Fox has caused quite a stir this election season by making a powerful appearance in TV ads for three Democrats running for a Senate seat in the states of Maryland, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The ads are heartbreaking for those of us who grew up watching Fox’s television shows and movies. The actor had to retire from full-time acting in 2000 due to Parkinson’s Disease. In the ads he sways uncontrollably to and fro, a sign that the ravages of the disease are slowly taking over his body.

Rush Limbaugh angered millions of Americans after he criticized the ads as exploitive and said Fox was “either off his medication or acting.” Fox has responded saying he was not off his medication but, rather, over-medicated, which explains why his symptoms appeared worse than usual. As it turns out, Parkinson’s is a difficult disease to regulate. Sufferers have better days and worse days. The Senate ads were evidently filmed on one of Fox’s bad days.

But is Limbaugh’s charge of exploitation wrong? If Democrats are not exploiting a victim to rally voters to their side, what are they doing? Why not feature a medical doctor in the ads instead of an actor? Wouldn’t a health-care professional make a better spokesman?

A health-care professional might have been more accurate in his portrayal of embryonic stem cell research’s potential. One of the Democratic ads featuring Fox claims,

Stem cell research offers hope to millions of Americans with diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s…. But George Bush and Michael Steele would put limits on the most promising stem cell research.

These statements are patently false. First of all, no legislation exists on the federal level prohibiting stem cell research of any kind. States are allowed to fund the research using tax dollars, and, of course, private funding is also legal. The only limits the U.S. government is placing on the research is on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. In fact, last year President Bush approved a bill that provided federal funding for adult stem cell research, which has shown some promise in the last few years.

Secondly, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever indicating that embryonic stem cell research offers hope to Americans suffering from Parkinson’s or any other disease. In an article entitled, “The Unconscionable Claims of Michael J. Fox,” obstetrician and gynecologist Mary L. Davenport writes,

The plain fact is that embryonic stem cell research is proving to be a bust. There are currently 72 therapies showing human benefits using adult stem cells and zero using embryonic stem cells. Scientifically-minded readers can review this medical journal article on the status of adult stem cell research. Adult stem cell therapies are already being advertised and promoted while no such treatments are even remotely in prospect for embryonic stem cell research.

The fact is that adult stem cells have already produced remarkable cures, whereas embryonic stem cells have failed. This should come as no great surprise to anyone with a background in high school biology. When an embryo is created by the union of the sperm and egg, the cells begin to divide, creating embryonic stem cells from which all future tissues and organs are derived. Within days, the embryonic cells differentiate into three cell layers Â? ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm. Cells in these layers continue to differentiate into tissues and organs. As the embryo matures into a fetus, child, and adult, some undifferentiated cells of the three types remain in various tissues such as bone marrow, fat, skin and olfactory tissue.

These adult stem cells are multipotent: they have the ability to turn into a variety of types of tissues. Successful stem cell therapies cause the DNA in the adult stem cells to further differentiate into more specific types of cells. There is no point in getting the adult stem cell to turn into a less differentiated type of cell, or using the more primitive embryonic stem cells. This would be going backward, in the opposite direction of providing a clinically useful therapy. Difficulties abound with proposed embryonic stem cell therapies. The growth of the more primitive embryonic stem cells is more difficult to control and leads to tumor formation. Recent research suggests brain tumors may result. Additionally, the use of embryonic tissue foreign to the patient can potentially lead to problems with immune rejection of tissue, a problem not encountered in using a patientÂ?s own adult stem cells.

If adult stem cell research shows more promise, why aren’t the Democrats talking about it more? The truth is, embryonic stem cell research is part of a larger debate involving abortion. Democrats know that if we determine that embryonic stem cell research is unethical, we are on our way to overturning Roe v. Wade.

An embryo is nothing less than human life at a very early stage. That being the case, experimentation leading to the destruction of human embryos is murder, no matter what the research may promise.