Em­bry­onic stem cells: hype, not hope

The Washington Times Weekly - - Letters To The Editor -

The new Congress is putting for­ward leg­is­la­tion to di­vert tax­payer dol­lars to­wards em­bry­onic stem cell re­search. The mir­a­cle cures promised­byem­bry­on­ic­stem­cell­sis­the­great­est ex­am­ple of hype and dis­tor­tion since the inanity sur­round­ing Y2K and pre­dic­tion of the com­ing apoc­a­lypse.

Re­mem­berthe­word­sofSen.JohnEd­wards be­fore­the­last­elec­tion:“Ifwe­dothe­work­that we­can­dointhis­coun­try,the­work­thatwewill do when John Kerry is pres­i­dent, peo­ple like Christo­pher Reeve are go­ing to walk, get up out of that wheel­chair and walk again.” This was cal­lous pol­i­tics at its worst. Even Reeve’s own re­searchers have ad­mit­ted that the prom­ise of em­bry­onic stem cells has been grossly ex­ag­ger­ated.

The­me­di­a­has­disin­gen­u­ous­ly­por­trayedthe de­ba­teon­stem­cell­sasone­be­tween­pro­gres­sive sci­ence­and­back­warde­thics.Thishas­dis­torted the fee­ble­ness and some­times de­ceit of the sci­en­tific claims made on be­half of em­bry­onic stem cells and thereby mis­led the pub­lic.

The fact is that adult stem cells (har­vested from adult bone mar­row, um­bil­i­cal cords, etc) have­been­proven­im­mense­ly­ef­fec­tive. Tomake mat­ters worse, 20 years ago we were told that be­ing able to grow any tis­sue type de­sired from em­bry­onic stem cells was “an es­sen­tial first step.” De­spite tens of mil­lions of dol­lars and decades of world­wide re­search, this “first step” has­not­beenachieved.In­deed,one­ofthe­world’s pre­em­i­nent and renowned stem cell ex­perts, Pro­fes­sor Lord Win­ston, re­cently stated, “ I am not con­vinced that em­bry­onic stem cells will, in my life­time and pos­si­bly any­body’s life­time for that­mat­ter,be­hold­ingquiteth­e­p­romisethatwe des­per­ately hope they will.”

So why are peo­ple push­ing this seem­ingly false hope and doubt­ful “po­ten­tial” at tax­payer ex­pense? Well, there ap­pears to be three types of ar­dent ad­vo­cates. First, ex­ec­u­tives of biotech firms do­ing the re­search. For them, it is not a ques­tionof­morals,but­prof­its.Th­esec­ond­group is politi­cians who are used to mak­ing false and grandiose prom­ises for po­lit­i­cal gain. The last group is the most rep­re­hen­si­ble: those who are try­ing to jus­tify the de­struc­tion of hu­man em­bryos merely to ad­vance an ide­ol­ogy. John M. Clegg Ponte Ve­dra, Florida

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