Alex P. Keaton, Where Are You?

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*WARNING* Politically charged waters ahead. Swim at your own risk.

If you haven’t heard about the recent brouhaha regarding Rush Limbaugh and actor Michael J. Fox, you haven’t been watching the news. Many are calling Limbaugh insensitive (and much worse) after comments he made accusing the actor of exploiting his Parkinson’s disease in a series of political ads in which Fox endorses various Democrats who are running for congress. The issue? The opponents of these candidates are also opposed to government-funded fetal stem cell research, a branch of science that promises cures and treatments for everything from paralysis to Fox’s Parkinson’s, the symptoms of which are the very visible focus of the political commercials in question.

I admit that Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh make me wince at times with their ungentle way of putting things. But I often finding myself in agreement with their ideas–in this case, the point that Coulter has made before and that I believe Rush is attempting to convey, as well: that “victimhood” should not set someone’s political ideology above reproach or challenge in the public arena.

Michael J. Fox is on those commercials for a reason–to elicit pity, and, subsequently, emotionally charged votes against anyone who might stand in the way of “medical progress” for him and others suffering from various diseases.

It works, to a point. I feel a great deal of pity for the suffering that Mr. Fox, the Reeves family, and others have gone through as they or their loved ones are ravaged by disease. But I don’t believe their suffering justifies the destruction of another human life to improve, or even save, their own.

A few points:

One of the candidates that Michael J. Fox is endorsing in these commercials, Ben Cardin, actually voted against a measure to fund promising stem cell research that wouldn’t require the destruction of embryos. I guess it just didn’t pack the political punch of fetal stem cell issues, which decidedly pit the more pro-life sensibilities of the right against the left, which largely supports this research. These attempts to paint those opposed to stem cell research as uncaring and calloused to human pain and suffering may be politically expedient, but they do a lot of damage to the public trust.

Contrary to the impression often given in debates on this issue, fetal stem cell research is not illegal. The only point in contention here is whether or not tax dollars will be spent to develop it. Most medical research is funded privately, with drug companies and investment minded individuals pouring large amounts of money into promising research candidates. If fetal stem cell research is the panacea the left would like us to believe, why is the market discarding its possibilities?

The truth is that embryonic stem cell research has yet to yield even one useful therapeutic application. In contrast, many positive, concrete results have been achieved in the exploration of stem cell lines from adults, harvested without any harm at all to the subject.

If you’d like some examples, here are a few:

“Researchers at Harvard Medical School say adult stem cells may eliminate the need for embryonic ones. The researchers experienced a permanent reversal of Type 1 diabetes in mice by killing the cells responsible for the diabetes. The animals’ adult stem cells took over and regenerated missing cells needed to produce insulin and eliminate the disease. The results hold promise for rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus and more than 50 other ailments.

At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, a man with a rare, potentially fatal skin disorder that was so severe that he could no longer eat, is now symptom-free after receiving a transplant of his own adult stem cells.

Doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago extracted the adult stem cells from the blood of two Crohn’s patients and successfully used them to rebuild their faulty immune systems.

Dr. Edward Holland of the Northern Kentucky Eye Laser Center in the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area is using adult stem cell transplants as part of a treatment to dramatically improve the eyesight of his patients.

New research in the UK on rats indicates that transplants of adult stem cells can help stroke victims regain movement, senses and understanding. They also show that the adult cells were more effective than cells from aborted babies.The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York came to similar conclusions.

A study by the Institute for Stem Cell Research in Milan, Italy showed that certain cells from the brains of adult rats can be used to generate muscular tissue.

Researchers at the University of South Florida in Tampa have found that adult stem cells from the umbilical cord blood may be able to help repair damaged brain tissue after a stroke.
Scientists at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ have found that bone marrow cells may be converted into replacement nerve cells, able to treat brain and nerve injuries. Dr. Ira Black and his team were able to convert 80% of the bone marrow cells into nerve cells.”*

And on the subject of funding, this quote is from Forbes magazine: “Of the 15 US biotech companies solely devoted to developing cures using stem cells, only two focus on embryos. Embryo stem cell research is at the drawing-board stage – not for lack of funds but for lack of promising research to finance. Venture capitalists have no agenda beyond making money; if they see embryo projects that are likely to bear fruit over the next five to seven years – the usual VC time horizon – they will fund them. That the market is speaking so loudly against embryo stem cell research probably explains why embryo researchers are so eager to reverse the ban on government funding.”

I don’t condone any research or treatment that destroys a human life, regardless of its degree of success. But even if you put ethics aside, as many would like to do, it’s clear that the potential of fetal stem cell research has been greatly exaggerated by those who would use it as a wedge to attain political power for themselves.

If you’re interested in reading more on the technical aspects of stem cell research, here is an excellent article from 21st Century Science and Technology Magazine.

*information collected by Life Issues Institute, Inc.

**Does this post sound familiar? It began as a comment I wrote in reply to a Wild Card thread on Huckleberries Online.

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17 responses »

  1. Bravo for sailing into waters with a cohesive and clear voice. I interviewed a Vanderbilt patient last year who was completely cured of bone cancer by doctors who used his own stem cells. There is so much the public is unaware of.

  2. You know what? When I started reading this post, I thought, “Oh, no!” But, I was very pleasantly surprised at your thourough research. I had no idea that adult stem cell research was more productive than the research done on embryos. I honestly didn’t really know anything about the differences and just assumed it was a black and white issue of “for” stem cells or “not for” stem cells. Thanks for giving me the education! I now whole-heartedly agree with your position.

    As for Marty McFly, my heart breaks for him and his family. With all the political issues put to the side, however, I still think it was wrong for Rush to say the things he said. But, hey. That’s what that guy has been doing for the last bajillion years. I remember as a very small child, listening to him with my grandmother. He’s always been very vocal about his opinions of people, right or wrong. So, this is nothing out of the ordinary coming from him. And also? I’m really kindof glad that it happened in the first place because it has brought light to this very important issue. More people than ever are talking about it, as evidenced by the blogging community, and hopefully that will mean that more people are made aware of the things you discussed here and the good research will continue and find cures.

    This is the best post I’ve read in a long time, friend. Thanks!

  3. Very well written!

    Sadly, the government and media propoganda spins information in such a way that unless we do the research ourselves, we never get the whole truth on anything.

    Limbaugh was out of line to comment as he did (along with physically immitating) Fox’s appearance, but I do understand the point he was trying to make.

    Kinda makes you wonder how educated Fox himself is on the matter, since he pushes so hard for the gov to fund the research. Sounds like he’s bought into the hype himself.

  4. Thanks to you all for the encouraging words. 🙂

    Jules, I’m totally thrilled that I was able to share something you hadn’t heard with you! I love the exchange of ideas and information that lively political discussions provide, but emotions run so high through some of these issues that it’s scary to step into the ring. Your comment was very heartening!

  5. Thanks so much for this post, Katrina. I was also woefully lacking in the facts and I do appreciate you clarifying it for me. I didn’t see/hear the Rush Limbaugh thing but am very disappointed in him, again. I think he could really use some tact lessons 😉

  6. I have some homework to do (and fast) before elections next month, but I will say this about all the recent hoopla: If my son contracted a disease and I found support through some local representative when I was otherwise hopeless, I’d be out there singing their praises, too. I see absolutely nothing wrong with Michael J. Fox using his situation to make us aware of the necessity for research. I do think you are right, though, in that we need to understand that the possibility for a cure (through research) already exists, it’s just a matter of who will pay for it. I guess we need to decide: if the private section isn’t interested (because they can’t make a buck) then are we to simply say a cure isn’t important enough for the general public to want tax dollars spent on it? AIDS has yet to affect my family, but I believe the implications of the disease will be one of the biggest GLOBAL challenges in years to come. I think it is our duty to responsibly help find a cure.

    I’d rather my tax dollars went to stem cell research over building one more nuclear weapon (since we can already blow up the planet 40 times over).

  7. Michael J. Fox has been on sitcoms. Have YOU been on any sitcoms? HAVE YOU?! Have YOU been to the past AND the future MULTIPLE TIMES?! Can YOU play “Johnny B. Goode” on the electric guitar while scooting across the stage on YOUR back?! CAN YOU???!!!!

    That’s what I thought.

    I guess that settles THIS debate.

    Hello, Katrina.

  8. To Cuppy: *waves wildly*

    Amy, I agree that MJF has the right to use whatever power and influence he has, whether that be his celebrity or his visibility as a Parkinson’s sufferer, to try to affect change that he believes is important. That’s what’s beautiful about America. But I also believe that even those who don’t bear that particular badge of suffering have the right to weigh in on the right or wrong of fetal stem cell research, based on our own beliefs and experiences. The objection to the politicizing of victim status is that it attempts (sometimes) to put the victim’s opinions and convictions beyond challenge. (I have no opinion about whether this is being done in this case, though I do understand the argument, and the often disproportionate outcry against Rush’s comments could be seen as a support for it.)

    I agree with you, too, that it’s frustrating to see drug companies make decisions solely based on financial considerations. In this case, however, if a cure for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Cystic Fibrosis, or Diabetes was likely to be brought about by fetal stem cell research, that same self-interest would actually work FOR that research, since those diseases are very common and any cure or treatment would be much in demand. There’s just no indication that those promised results will ever materialize.

    As I said, my main obection to fetal stem cell research is ideological, but even from a practical standpoint, there’s not much reason for all the firestorm that surrounds it.

  9. ditto what Jules said.

    If there is one thing I love about you, Katrina, it’s your ability to present information in a VERY well thought out and balanced manner. It is an amazing gift that you have, and I am blessed to have discovered your blog.

    🙂

    As always, thanks for the education.

  10. I couldn’t agree more Katrina. Nancy Reagan is also spouting off about this issue, and I have a hard time believing my man Ronnie would have condoned it- no matter if it WOULD have helped his condition in the end.

  11. I have learned alot from you on this issue and I thank you for doing the work. I’ve researched this issue before and kind of forgot why I was taking a stand against stem cell research.
    I too feel for MJFox and felt that Superman had unrealistic expectations, but I admired his hope. I pray that God will win this fight!

  12. “The opponents of these candidates are also opposed to government-funded fetal stem cell research . . .”

    Give me a break — preimplantation embryos are not fetuses by anyone’s definition of the term. And no one is talking about taking cells from fetuses (since they don’t contain any embryonic stem cells).

    Just a passing troll noticing your manipulation of language.

  13. Hello, and thank you for trolling!

    In fact, you’re right that stem cells for this research are taken from embryos. I looked up “fetus” and the term, though sometimes used in an umbrella-like way to refer to any unborn human from conception to birth, is more usually reserved for those who are past eight weeks gestation. The “manipulation” was unintended, and I stand corrected.

    It’s all the same to me, however, since I believe that life begins at conception and includes “pre-implantation embryos”, so the thrust of my argument remains unchanged.

    Thanks for participating in the discussion, though. 🙂

  14. As a sufferer of RA, I had no idea of the adult stem cell advancements and the hope for my condition. How awesome is a God who creates us in such a way that there is much more hope from an adult stem cell than an embryonic one??

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