God of very small things

Will a lift on the ban on federal funds for Stem cell research be one of Ronald Reagan's lasting legacies? Orin Hatch and 57 other senators hope so. They sent a letter to President Bush, invoking Reagan's name in hopes of getting the ban lifted.

Carol Marin, a highly respected television journalist here in Chicago, hopes so too. In an op-ed piece in today's Chicago Tribune, she told the story of Cari Lynn, a 31 year old Chicago writer who's only hope in fighting cancer lies in stem cells.

Here's what Marin wants Bush to do:

  • He should approve broader federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. And he should do it right now.
  • the president needs to sit down with members of the religious right and talk to them about stem cells in "sanctity-of-life" terms. He needs to tell them that the number of lives waiting to be saved really does matter.

The article also includes some of the standard stem cell arguments:

  • Stem cells save lives. We know this.
  • There are today an estimated 400,000 frozen human embryos stockpiled in fertility clinics across the country. Many of them will never be used.
  • Ronald Reagan, in his illness and death, put a public face on Alzheimer's disease. Nancy Reagan has put a face on the bipartisan discussion of why and how we need to rethink embryonic stem-cell research.

I've been harping on this for a while, but there are just some bad facts/assumptions in Marin's piece and other's like.

First, that stem cells are a miracle cure or silver bullet. Not according to a new piece by Robert Lanza and Nadia Rosenthal, leading stem cell researcher, in Scientific American.

Here's what they wrote:

Patients are buoyed by reports of the cells' near-miraculous properties, but many of the most publicized scientific studies have subsequently been refuted, and other data have been distorted in debates over the propriety of deriving some of these cells from human embryos.

Second, that most of the 400,000 embryo is storage will be discarded anyway. According to last year's frozen embryo report () which is where the 400,000 embryo figure comes from, only 2.8% of those embryos are available for research. The vast majority, nearly 90% are being store for future use.

That 2.8 percent, or just over 10,000 embryos, aren't nearly enough. The Scientific American piece estimates that --because of tissue rejection--millions of embryos would be needed to get treatments that would work.

Then there's this one--that stem cell opponents care more about a "tiny colony of about 300 cells" than they do about millions of people like Carrie.

It's easy to put a human face--whether it's Cari or Reagan or my mother, who's crippling MS could potentially be cure by stem cells.

It's hard to put a face on a frozen embryo--unless of course, you travel to Royer's Ford, Pennsylvania, to visit Morgan and Macy turner, a pair of five year old girls who were once leftover frozen embryos.

Their genetic parents decided to donate them to another infertile couple, and so Michele and Jeff Turner are now parents of two beautiful young girls. I interviewed the Turners for a story last year and they were full of joy at the gift of their daughters.

So who do we choose in this debate? Cari and Ronald Reagan or Morgan and Macy? Because that's what this is all about.

No one wants Cari to die. No one wants people to suffer from Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or MS or any other disease. But those frozen embryos aren't to blame for those diseases. And they at least deserve more than being callously used as raw material for cures.

I never did make it to Royer's Ford to the Turner's house. But Christianity Today did send a photographer there. When I see the article clipping --with Morgan and Macy building blocks on the
floor with their parents--I realize what stem cell research would cost.


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