Friday, April 13, 2007

April 13, 2007 - The Stem-Cell Mess

Every once in a while, I have the uncanny experience of reading about myself in the news – not some story in our local weekly, but the national news. Today’s article doesn’t mention me by name, but I’m in there, nonetheless.

The article – an editorial in the New York Times – is about stem cells. I’ve long followed the stem-cell debate with great interest – long before I was diagnosed with cancer. It’s a fascinating case, from the standpoint of Christian ethics: rock-ribbed, inflexible moral absolutism vs. cutting-edge medical science that could save lives.

Which is the lesser of two evils? Destroying a frozen embryo that could – if implanted in a woman’s uterus – develop into a viable human being? Or, holding off on medical research that could result in life-saving treatments?

President Bush believes the first option is the worse evil. The Times editorial doesn’t mince words in saying how wrong the newspaper’s editors think he is:

“ man, President Bush, and a minority of his party, the religious and social conservatives, are once again trying to impose their moral code on the rest of the nation and stand in the way of scientific progress.... The restrictions on federal financing have led to absurdly complicated and costly maneuvers. Scientists are forced to buy extra equipment and laboratory space with private money to perform off-limits research while using equipment and supplies bought with federal money on the permitted stem cell research. In a shocking example cited during Senate debate, a California researcher who had been cultivating stem cells in a makeshift privately financed lab suffered a power failure but was unable to transfer her lines into industrial-strength freezers in another lab because they were federally financed. Two years of work melted away because of this inanity.”

I said, just now, that I’m mentioned in this editorial – but only by implication. As a blood-cancer patient, I stand to benefit from stem-cell research, big-time. Every once in a while, that realization hits me like the proverbial ton of bricks. The anonymous patients who can benefit from stem-cell research are people very much like me: in fact, I am one of them.

Earlier today, I sat in the nurses' room at Dr. Lerner’s office, waiting for my monthly port flush. There were two elderly men sitting on either side of me, both there to get shots: one in his arm, the other in his stomach. What were the medicines they were receiving, through those hypodermic injections? Were they developed through cultures taken from stem cells? If so, were the cells harvested before the Federal research ban? Or did they come from one of the approved “lines,” that the Bush administration has determined can still be grandfathered in, under the law?

This isn’t some moral abstraction. There are lives that will be saved, if the restrictions on stem-cell research are dropped. Real, human lives. Maybe the lives of some of the people sitting beside me in the doctors office. Maybe even my life.

No, for me this is no abstraction. It’s personal.


Laura said...

Thanks for writing about this. My nephew is 15 and has type 1 diabetes. This is a very real thing for us as well.
My brother and sister in law tried to get pregnant a few years back but the embryos didn't survive. They felt so strongly that life starts at inception, even in a petrie dish, that they went to the lab, got their embryos and had a ceremony to bury them.
When I asked my brother about his feelings about this issue of stem cells he said that until he had Austin, my nephew, he would have said absolutley not. Now, he has no choice but to say ABSOLUTELY YES!!

Thanks for sharing your story here Great news about being in remission!

Stushie said...

Stem cell research isn't limited to embryonic stem cells. There are more efficient ways of obtaining them without using embryos.

If we concentrate on just embryos, we may be missing out on vital research employing other sources.

Bint Alshamsa said...

Stushie, if scientists are hindered from working on some types of stem cells, then we simply can not say for a certainty what would be the most efficient means of obtaining them. Some scientists are researching non-embryionic stem cells. However, these are the same scientists who need access to more cell lines to come up with a more complete picture of how these stem cells behave and what they are capable of.

So, if you care about stem cell research and you don't want millions of people to die and many millions more to suffer needlessly every year, then we need to give science the best chance of finding new cures and treatments.

Duane said...

Hi Carl,

Excellent blog! I've been following your progress for some time. Like you, I've battled lymphoma and am a news addict. I love posts about my cancer and current events as well. I received an ASCT for HD one year ago and am preparing for a 2nd transplant now.

I linked your site to my blog. Can you link my blog to your site too?

Wishing you continued health,