Category: "Stem Cells"

Ga. State Stem cell bill could hurt business: MSNBC

Please review link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29683060/

Comment:
For some time now, there have been highly charged emotions spurred by the public debate over stem cells and our society is growing increasingly divided over this issue. I find that the development in Georgia, ironically shortly following a much trumpeted reversal of a federal funding ban on stem cell research, is particularly relevant and captures the very essence of the problem. The article is well written, with carefully selected and abundant quotes, demonstrating key elements of opposing views.

At this time, experts agree that embryonic and non-embryonic stem cells are NOT equivalent, from the perspective of their potential to help cure human disease. Therefore, in this comment when discussing anti-stem cell propaganda, sometimes I don't make a clear distinction between "stem cell research" versus "embryonic stem cell research" versus embryonic stem cell research on pre-2001 lines only (approved by Bush), as I believe those distinctions are not very relevant to this debate. I do realize that one of the main arguments of the anti stem cell research moral ideologist camp is that non-embryonic stem cells are just as good, but I don't buy the argument of limiting any part of the research on "moral grounds" as it would nevertheless be a limitation, i.e., we would be doing less for our patients than we could, a limitation that is driven by ideology, which I believe is not acceptable. I do think discourse over how inferior non-embryonic stem cells to embryonic ones are is valid. And intelligent, scientific, non-ideology motivated discussion over the ethical and moral aspects of any research is not only valid, but absolutely necessary. Limits of any research are necessary, too, but they should be determined by true scientific and moral principle, not any one ideology.

Gov. Sonny Perdue would like to "draw the line", based on "moral" and "ethical" grounds. As a veterinarian, he is no stranger to life sciences. Yet, he takes a stand in favor of a particular ideology that goes against mainstream science. His ideologically motivated stand happens to be the basis of his political constituency. BTW, it is not unusual for him to disregard minority views (including atheism) that hold less political value to him for gubernatorial use, e.g. by leading the pray for rain campaign (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21767716/), on behalf of "all people" of Georgia (including those who don't believe in prayers).

Social conservatism is a function of geography (i.e. "Bible Belt") and despite the fact that about two thirds of Americans support embryonic stem cell research (even greater percentage if it is likely to help a relative, although there is some variability of the polls), some states choose to back anti-health ideology. One might even think those living in regions laden with anti-science ideology should "enjoy" every consequence of policies driven by such ideology, but of course penalizing misinformed folks for being misinformed would be unfair to them.

I believe the argument against stem cell research is a particularly representative manifestation of political hypocrisy. I do not wish any of the activists vocal against stem cell research or the politicians voting against it to see their relatives come down one day with a disease that could be helped with advances made through stem cell research. But I would be curious to find out how staunch supporter of such ideologically extreme and practically anti-human views would those people remain in case their loved ones were to be potentially saved by stem cells. In other words, as I would say to them: let's run the litmus test of how much your showy and politically gainful "moral" beliefs about stem cells is worth? It appears to be worth somebody else's health or life. Is it worth your loved one's health or life?

Of course, nobody would want to willingly destroy human embryos for another human life, and all informed citizens should know that stem cell research is not about that. We are not talking about embryos that are "farmed" or produced for the sake of stem cells, but embryos that are somehow became available and would be otherwise discarded. However unfortunate it may be that they cannot have the chance to grow into full human beings, one cannot blame stem cell research for the fact these embryos became available. They are capable of supplying cells, which, on the other hand, may help other humans. Humans, who are full human beings, with families, loved ones, memories, thoughts, feelings.

In my opinion what is truly morally unacceptable is to step up and declare with a straight face that these full human beings who suffer from incurable ailments do not deserve the chance of benefiting from every tool our state of the art science may offer, because touching otherwise discarded human tissue is morally "wrong". Again, I wonder if those who have the "courage" to hold such views would be able to do so in front of their dying mother or child, and whether they would feel morally "elevated" (i.e., answering to "higher" set of moral values, elevating their sense of morality above the level represented by the death of a loved one) by seeing their otherwise technically salvageable loved ones die in front of their eyes, to their total moral catharsis. Would they have the courage to say to their loved ones the often abused excuse that "we don't have to" use embryonic stem cells, as we have other means to help, such as through non-embryonic stem cells (which option has repeatedly been shown as not fully equivalent with what embryonic stem cells can offer). Or would they say to their loved ones that "god wants you to die now, so be it, I am sure you would not want to disobey god's will, and I certainly don't".

My prediction is that almost all of these people would quickly reverse their position on stem cells as long as change of their views would save a family member. And that is why their position is hypocritical in the first place (i.e., as long as it is to help somebody else's life/health, I oppose it, as long as it is to save my loved one, I support it).

The hypocritical position of a politician on stem cells research is a very intriguing manifestation of opportunism. As long as a potentially stem-cell-curable health problem is not hitting home, the politician gains more by opposing, as his opposition scores valuable political points among his/her constituency of social conservatives. The opportunistic calculation shifts, however, when his own health (or a health of a loved one) comes into play. Then he/she may benefit more by embracing a medical option to save self or a loved one; when the political gains of opposing are eclipsed by a direct threat to health; when death's dark shadow is dreadfully cast on their own household or circle, the political charade becomes irrelevant, the posing to make political gains becomes meaningless.

Then there may be a small percentage who would stick with their anti-health views even if it meant untimely and preventable death of their loved ones. Those I would not call hypocritical, but crazy fanatic. Practically indistinguishable from those who refuse standard life-saving medical care (such as transfusions) on religious basis or those suicide bombers who blow themselves up in the name of some god. Sacrificing human life has long been part of religions, supported by their specific (and cruel) way of interpreting "morality". But as part of our advanced medical care system trying to cure disease and fight human ailment, we should not allow this modern reiteration of human sacrifice happen to anyone. In fact we should keep out of policy regarding health care all religions that encourage any practice that can threaten human life or health, or promote interference with best scientifically sound research and health care.

Some religions can have a "conflict of interest" when it comes to human life and health. Humanism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanism) calls for absolute respect of and regard for human life and well-being, above anything else. As modern day physicians, we have a lot to share with the concept of humanism, as the most fundamental principle of the Hippocratic Oath (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocratic_Oath) is to not harm. Religions, on the other hand, often hold something other than respect for human life more important and when it comes to that there could be a conflict.

In this example about stem cells, I see that in some ways religious ideology clashes with humanism again, over human life. In this example, religion driven ideology would sacrifice human life (i.e. not do everything to cure disease) for ideological reasons, nothing else. (It is interesting that ideologists sometimes refer to themselves as "pro-life". Observe how they can part and parcel their pro-life view, in that they would call it pro-life the "respect" of discarded tissue left peacefully in the waste basket, as opposed to using it to save human lives, but those lives to be saved don't really qualify to be considered in their "pro-life" definition, i.e., the life of a tissue wins over the life of a full human.)

There is little question in my mind that neither hypocritical political maneuvering playing on religious conservative voters' sympathy, nor religious fanaticism should drive policy at the societal level. Sound science and scientific methodology should. Truly open discourse over morality should. Because of the impact of geographically specific distortions in public view based on misinformation, state legislation should have limited power over how it can act against its own citizens' health, even though it should have the right to drive business out of the state, based on "moral grounds". It is unclear what the Ga. stem cell bill will mean to Ga. and other states. But we should applaud that at the federal level policy is heading to the right direction. As a physician, I would never be able to support anything that artificially limits the way we can care for the sick. I am glad the majority of our society agrees. We should allow diversity in views and opinions. But legislation, especially at the federal level, should be driven by common sense and scientific method, not ideology.