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    "When many cures are offered for a disease, it means the disease is not curable" -Anton Chekhov

    ''Once you tell people there's a cure for something, the more likely they are to pressure doctors to prescribe it.''
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    Tuesday, August 10, 2004

    Pluripotency: Stem cell research seems to have become a hot campaign topic, or at least embryonic stem cell research has. Yesterday, the Kerry/Edwards campaign issued a statesman-like statement on the subject:

    John Kerry and John Edwards are committed to scientific research based on fact, not ideology, and in the White House, will encourage the use of science and innovation to meet the challenges of the future, from job creation to medical breakthroughs to strengthening the American economy.

    “Today we mark a sad anniversary,” Edwards said. “But our focus isn’t on what happened three years ago - our focus is on what can happen for millions of Americans who have diseases and conditions that one day could be cured or abated by stem-cell therapy. Today is about what we can do to lift those roadblocks and allow science and compassion to do their work.”

    It sounds so reasoned. Who could object to the use of science to advance humanity? Well, Laura Bush for one:

    While Mr. Bush was appearing in Virginia, his wife, Laura, was addressing the Pennsylvania Medical Society in Langhorne, Pa., where she urged a cautious, go-slow policy on stem-cell research and declared that such research has ethical and moral implications "that must not be treated lightly."

    ...In her Pennsylvania appearance, Mrs. Bush said, "I hope that stem-cell research will yield cures," according to The Associated Press. "But I know that embryonic stem-cell research is very preliminary right now, and the implication that cures for Alzheimer's are around the corner is just not right. And it's really not fair to people who are watching a loved one suffer with this disease."

    Mrs. Bush is correct. There is no current research that suggests that stem cells of either variety - adult or embryonic - might provide hope for Alzheimer's patients. (They have been used for Parkinson's disease, on the other hand.)

    She's also correct about the larger issue - the importance of considering the possible consequences of our actions. Science doesn't operate in a vacuum. Just because science makes someting possible, doesn't mean that it should be done. Moral implications need to be taken into account. Even Einstein, an atheist, understood this:

    Concern for man himself must always constitute the chief objective of all technological effort -- concern for the big, unsolved problems of how to organize human work and the distribution of commodities in such a manner as to assure that the results of our scientific thinking may be a blessing to mankind, and not a curse.

    The area of disagreement in the embryonic stem cell debate is not whether or not stem cell research should advance. Research is still taking place with embryonic cell lines that already exist. The debate is about whether or not new embryos should be produced to make new cell lines. That means creating life with the sole intent of sacrificing it for science. We do that with lab animals, but is it not understandable that some of us reject the idea of doing that with human life?

    The other aspect of this debate that never gets mentioned in the papers or the campaign rhetoric, is that there are stem cells that can be obtained without sacrificing life to do it. They're called adult stem cells, and they've been more successful in treating disease than embryonic stem cells. The reason for their neglect in the stem cell campaign has a lot to do with the self-interest of researchers:

    British researchers editorialized in the February 2003 Journal of Cell Science that 'despite such irrefutable evidence of what is possible, a veritable chorus of detractors of adult-stem cell plasticity has emerged, some doubting its very existence, motivated perhaps by more than a little self-interest.

    (Michael Fumento has more on the issue here.)

    It may be that science is being misused here, but not by the Republicans.


    posted by Sydney on 8/10/2004 08:25:00 AM 0 comments


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