Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Stem Cell Conspiracy?

The news about adult stem cells doing actual work in the real world is beginning to hit the surface. This author’s take on the lag between the breakthrough and the media coverage is just short of conspiracy. If a group-in the media or in politics-has invested so much time, money, and celebrity face time on fetal stem cell research, there is a heavy incentive to ignore the competing claim.

It is incredibly unfortunate that this is the case. I believe that not only does the science give credence to adult stem cell research, but the ethical considerations completely obliterate the option of fetal stem cell research.

Look at it this way:

1. There are two possible avenues of stem cell research-embryonic and adult.
2. In order to retrieve fetal or embryonic stem cells, the embryo or fetus needs to be destroyed.
3. In order to retrieve adult stem cells, no adults (or any human for that matter) are harmed in the process.
4. The benefits of fetal and adult stem cells are basically equivalent (I believe the benefits are tilting in the direction of adult stem cells, but assume for now that they are at least similar).
5. Both fetuses and embryos are humans.

Given this set of propositions, the choice for adult stem cell research is clear. As far as I am concerned, if all the real life applications were favoring fetal stem cells at this point, I would come to the same conclusion based on the weight of the ethical considerations. To argue, as many are doing today, that we should kill several people in order to possibly save some is a little too Naziesque for my taste.

Here are a couple of quotes for the Chicago Tribune column. After wondering if the oversight is due to the stupidity of newspaper editors, the author writes:

Not likely. More likely it's because the stem cells used in Hwang's therapy were from umbilical cord blood instead of embryos. Why should that make a difference? Because if you favor embryonic stem cells, you are a smart, loving person. But if you favor cord cells, you are a Luddite. If you want to avoid the ethical, moral or religious difficulties posed by killing embryonic human life or by creating it solely for the purpose of prospecting, you are a cruel person who would let people suffer and die from horrible, painful diseases or injuries. Same goes for advocates of "adult" stem cells extracted harmlessly and without any ethical problems from living tissues of adults and children. In short: Good guys equal embryonic stem cells; bad guys equal adult and cord stem cells.

Unfortunately for Bush-haters, conservative bashers and others who have canonized embryonic stem-cell therapy, Hwang's miracle was pulled off with cord therapy--news that a biased media would prefer to ignore. I find it hard to believe that media bias explains such a news brownout, but what else could? Media ignorance on a stunningly massive scale about the significance of Hwang's cure? Or near-universal journalistic skepticism about the validity of the claims?

In fact, adult and cord stem cells hold as much, if not more, promise as the embryonic types. For years, it has been used to treat leukemia. The good newsabout adult and cord stem cell advances flows so steadily, it's hard to imagine how a journalist with any news judgment could ignore it.

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