Embryonic Stem Cell Travesty
Mitt Romney is one political figure who is under the microscope for his equivocating statements on life issues, such as embryonic stem cell research. This hot-button topic will surely come up many times throughout the 2012 election season. It is good to know the facts about what it is, why it is medically unnecessary, and why it is not politically wise to support it.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, on Friday, April 29, 2011, overturned a ban on the tax-payer funding of embryonic stem cell research. A district judge’s earlier order temporarily blocked federal funds from being used for embryonic stem cell studies. That does not mean, however, that there is, or has been, a general ban on the research itself.
Stem cell research is one of those untidy issues where the boundaries between politics and science are blurred and rhetorical arguments that reach the ears of an interested public don’t necessarily tell the full story. The fiery debate over whether or not tax-payer dollars should be used in research that, to many, requires the destruction of human life, has eclipsed the more basic questions surrounding stem cell research. For starters: Have embryonic stem cells been used in the successful treatment of disease?
Stem cells from human embryos have been studied since 1998. Most studies have been privately funded and the research is ongoing. Nevertheless there is no conclusive proof that embryonic stem cells have successfully treated human disease. Various internet resources and journal articles addressing embryonic stem cells use words like “potential,” “promise,” and “research in its early stages.” The truth is that not a single treatment nor cure for human illness has come from embryonic stem cells.
Stem cells from adults have been studied for decades. The most well known of such therapies is the “bone marrow transplant.” Adult stem cells are harvested from a tissue-matched donor or from the patient, and have been used in the treatment of autoimmune disease, anemia, leukemia, cancers, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries have improved in some patients who have received adult stem cell therapy.
The fact that adult stem cell therapies are proven in the treatment of a host of human ailments leads to the next question: Why continue embryonic stem cell research when adult stem cells have an excellent track record?
One could argue that continued funding for such research is necessary because the science is in its initial phases, and today’s research will lead to tomorrow’s cures. Some of the most passionate proponents of embryonic stem cell research have claimed that neurological damage done by spinal cord injuries and diseases such as Parkinson’s can be best treated with cells harvested from embryos. These assertions would have more force if the destruction of human life could be justified as the last and only hope for desperately ill people. But, as the success of adult stem cell therapies show, that is simply not the case.
The final question must be asked: Why is there such a push for public funding of embryonic stem cell research when adult stem cells are proven to treat and cure human disease?
The answer lies is that untidy threshold between politics and medicine. Tax-payer funded embryonic stem cell research is the symbolic twin of no-limits abortion. The legal decisions that say human embryos can be killed for dubious scientific purposes are a head-nod in the affirmative to the abortion lobby, “Roe vs. Wade,” and the specious argument that human beings are not persons until after they are born.