radically wrong on Stem Cells

A news story on WCHL radio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is radically wrong on Stem Cells.

UNC Doctor Praises Obama’s Stem Cell Act
http://www.wchl1360.com/details.html?id=9699

In part is says:

Dr. Norman Sharpless, a UNC associate professor of medicine and genetics who specializes in tumors and melanoma, says the move opens new doors
His research focuses mainly on mice, meaning Obama’s act won’t have a huge immediate impact for him. But he says it could open new doors in the future

So I wrote them this letter…

I do not challenge Dr. Sharpless.  I challenge you.

I challenge your story as bad reporting of a political issue.  The smelly garbage in the room that you fail to mention is that “stem cells” come from a variety of  sources.  However when referring to a federal ban “stem cells” is a shorthand for “embryonic stem cells” derived from aborted human fetuses.

You are implying that only “science” should decide what research is ethical because only “science” is informed enough to know.  Is an embryo a person?  If we cannot say definitively that it is not then we as a society should err on the side of reasoned compassion and not kill embryos for experiments without some overriding moral reason.  “Science” is no more qualified to make this judgment and in some ways is less qualified than individual citizens acting together through their lawmakers.  A science-based action group that states the ethical and moral considerations is The Coalition of American for Research Ethics.  Their website states a significant number of organizations that support ethical research.  See: http://www.stemcellresearch.org/alternatives/index.html

You mischaracterize “President Bush’s ban”.  No ban existed or exists. The federal prohibition that was enacted with broad support – though against specific hostile opposition –  was against using federal funds to do research on further new lines of stem cells derived from embryos.  Translated that means more lines newly produced from embryos killed for that or some other purpose.  Hardly a ban and an appropriate distinction if you would prefer the national government use our tax dollars on other pressing needs without the moral offense.  I’ve heard arguments that “we can’t compete with other countries” or “its too hard to research when you have to track separate funding or segregate labs and projects.”  I reject both of these arguments as moderately utilitarian and as not supported by the facts.

Finally there is a completely utilitarian argument that you avoid entirely.  Perhaps Dr. Sharpless is unaware as any readers of your article remain unaware.  Science has promised great things from stem cells but there are no therapies resulting from the use of embryonic stem cells.  Zero.  Please inform me if you find otherwise.  There are significant other therapies – and lives extended & improved – from treatments using non-embryonic stem cells.  An article posted by the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity says:

In contrast to research on embryonic stem cells, non-embryonic stem cell research has already resulted in numerous instances of actual clinical benefit to patients. For example, patients suffering from a whole host of afflictions—including (but not limited to) Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune diseases, stroke, anemia, cancer, immunodeficiency, corneal damage, blood and liver diseases, heart attack, and diabetes—have experienced improved function following administration of therapies derived from adult or umbilical cord blood stem cells.  See: http://www.cbhd.org/resources/stemcells/overview.htm

The opposition to harvesting cells – and worse intentionally aborting for collection – human embryos is conservative in a good sense of the word.  It opposes what some consider to be a great evil.  It favors spending tax dollars where the outcome is worthwhile.  It avoids bans on research but simply avoids funding research that is not substantiated with results.

Now however the federal government has reentered the business of deciding what research is good and that my tax dollars should be used to experiment on cells taken from embryos aborted for that purpose.  Now that’s change I CANNOT live with.

an update:

The Concerned Women for America seems to be on point in this fight: http://www.cwfa.org/main.asp

Their spokeswoman appears on their home page and on youtube in a very good interview on BBC

(BBC – in general and this reporter – has a liberal bent but still holds to their tradition of journalism that the US new media could learn from.)

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3 Responses to radically wrong on Stem Cells

  1. SoMG says:

    You are wrong about stem cells, on two counts.

    First, your “utilitarian” argument is off the point. We need to study embryonic stem cells for BASIC SCIENCE reasons. To understand them in as much detail as possible, just for the sake of understanding. We know that this leads to tangible benefits LATER. Medium-term and long-term later. Not in our lifetimes. Recent, current, and near-future clinical results are irrelevant. Both sides are guilty of overemphasizing them. We need to know HOW stem cells sense their environments and specialize accordingly. ALL kinds of stem cells. With enough details of this, we could learn to grow transplantable organs in factories. We also need to know: WHY/HOW do embryonic stem cell transplants make tumors? Do the adult stem cells, which don’t, “know” something that the embryonic ones have not yet learned? Or, is it just that adult stem cells are slower, so they are both less tumorigenic AND less useful? Can we control the changes in the stem cells from embryonic to adult, and dial up stem cells with maximum pluripotency and minimum tumorigenicity? This is all basic science, not clinical research. The clinical results come later, just as the clinical results we have today are entirely due to our wise predecessors who invested in basic science.

    Secondly, you are wrong about GWBush’s ban not being a ban. In order to fund science without federal money you need to be able to promise investors a return on their investments during their lifetimes. You can’t fund basic science that way (with a few exceptions). So a ban on Federal funding is an effective ban.

    Generally, your post reveals a shocking degree of ignorance about basic science, applied science, and the relations between the two. Well, ok, maybe not shocking because you’re not an expert. But not being an expert, you should not be writing about this issue.

    You wanna see the science of the future? Google Peter G. Schultz. Replacing intelligent design not with natural selection, but with unnatural selection.

  2. Laura says:

    Actually, you are wrong. Adult stem cells are giving us dozens of good, solid treatments for the diseases being named as the justification for exploiting embryonic stem cells. These good medical advances were privately funded because they’re good business – they work, they promise to bring in a good financial return for the investors.

    Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, have not been and will not be touched by private investors because those astute individuals already know that embryonic stem cell growth is too rapid, can’t be controlled adequately. And you know what uncontrolled cell growth is called: cancer.

    They know this because basic science – observation – has already mapped out the differing behaviors of the two types of stem cells.

    With adult stem cells (easily obtained from cord blood of newborns and from bone marrow of persons of all ages – less easily obtained from other parts of the body) demonstrating a more than adequate usefulness, there is NO JUSTIFICATION for the destruction of human beings for scientific “research.”

    And the proposed creation of embryos for research purposes is diabolical.

    I believe that takes care of both your criticisms of Matt’s post?

    And we don’t have to be experts in science (Matt far more so than I, of course) in order to read, listen to and understand the experts.

    Can you tell me why the rhetoric for justifying embryonic stem cell exploitation ignores adult stem cells altogether? or simply says “stem cells” as if there were only one kind? or seems to be treating the issue as if only embryonic stem cells were useful? Might it be because if the general population were really conscious of the distinction between adult and embryonic stem cells, and the wonderful advances using adult cells, and the rest of the story the pro-aborts refuse to tell us, so clever are they, the outrage would be more than they (the proaborts) could stand?

  3. Matt says:

    I’ve given this some thought.
    Is not SoMG’s argument the Utilitarian argument with some “science words” thrown in?
    I’d summarize their defense as we need to do this thing – aborting fetuses for their stem cells – to learn about stem cells so that later we can take that knowledge and use it for something.

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