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    Wednesday, October 20, 2004

    Waiting Room Reading: Newsweek nicely sums up what's wrong with the stem cell debate:

    Stem cells may not have been the highlight of last week's presidential debate, but there in the front row, wedged between Teresa Heinz Kerry and Kerry's daughter Vanessa, sat a person who stands for the power of science better than words ever could: Michael J. Fox. Diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991 and visibly ailing, Fox is a staunch supporter of stem-cell research and has, in recent weeks, become Sen. John Kerry's ambassador for the cause. It didn't bother Fox that the subject barely came up or that his presence was largely symbolic. "I'm happy I could do it. If anyone saw me there, they know that the issue is important to [Kerry]," he told NEWSWEEK.

    ...Watching Fox, it was impossible not to think of Christopher Reeve, who died last week at the age of 52. A tireless advocate for stem-cell research—"Superman in a wheelchair," as one friend called him—Reeve's death refocused attention on an issue that has mobilized celebrities, activists, scientists, politicians and even regular folks who barely remember their high-school biology.


    For so many people - and that includes the main stream media - it's more about emotion than science. That sweet little girl in the article's accompanying photo has diabetes, it's cruel to "deny" her a cure. Ditto Michael J. Fox. Ditto Christopher Reeve.

    You wouldn't know by reading the news stories on the issue that adult stem cells are showing more promise for diabetes therapy than embryonic stem cells. You wouldn't know that adult stem cells are showing more promise for spinal cord injuries than embryonic stem cells. You wouldn't know that adult stem cells have been beneficial for at least one person with Parkinson's.

    Why don't you hear about that? Why is the spotlight only shining on embryonic stem cell research, and not on adult stem cell research, too? Well, there are organizations whose members, have a financial interest in getting funding for embryonic stem cell research. And they know that if they went to the media and talked about the research they would put everyone to sleep. So, they hire celebrities. It works, especially when the celebrity happens to have a disease, too. But the results aren't necessarily the best for society.

    It's kind of sad to see someone like Michael J. Fox being taken advantage of by groups like this. Do you suppose he's even heard of adult stem cells? Or has he just been inundated with hype from embryonic stem cell research activists eager to use him for their own ends? Maybe he does know about adult stem cells, but just wants all of the possible options open. Hard to tell. But the fact that all of the rhetoric coming from celebrity spokespeople concentrates solely on embryonic stem cell research suggests it's the former. Shame on those research activists.
     

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