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Future of medical progress at stake in November

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Elections Will Sway Stem Cell Debate

Future of medical progress at stake in November

Thirty years ago I turned my back on politics and religion. Somehow I knew all about life before living it. Seeing hypocrisy in politics and business in religion I went my own way. However, now I’m paralyzed and facing questions that I’ve too long ignored.

Was I unfair in condemning all politicians because of politics? If objective morals and ethics provide beacons for social behavior, would mankind suffer without their guidance?

Frankly, I only began to think of these things because I hope to walk again. For five years, after suffering a spinal cord injury (SCI), I did little other than study the science of my condition. In 2002, I was pulled from my shell by widely publicized claims concerning embryonic stem cells, human cloning, and curing SCI — claims that were utterly false. I soon realized that one side of American politics was rubber-stamping efforts to hijack science for research patents, long-range funding, and pharmaceutical profits, while the other side stood in their way over morals.

Most who oppose embryonic stem cell research and human cloning believe that human life, including embryonic and fetal life, should not be destroyed to serve others. My opposition to these research directions may seem more self-serving and pragmatic. I believe the most rational hopes for curing disease and disabilities, including SCI, are clearly offered by non-embryonic solutions.

The outcomes of the November elections could determine the future of medical progress. Democratic candidates, such as Gov. Jim Doyle (D.-Wis.), promise to commit hundreds of millions of state dollars to embryonic stem cell research. Others demand the removal of ethical restrictions to its federal funding. Rep. Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.), the likely chairman of the Government Reform Committee in a Democrat-controlled House, wants to conduct hearings into what he calls the moral abuse of publicly funded science.

Before November, America would be well-advised to consider whether ethics, moral principles, and public oversight threaten medical progress, or if they protect it.

Gambling With Life

Adult stem cells play key roles in human organ repair and cell replacement. Embryonic stem cells are designed to function in the embryo — not in adult (postnatal) tissues. These conflicting designs present daunting obstacles to embryonic stem cells providing practical medical solutions, whereas broad medical potentials using adult stem cells and cord blood can be tapped with far less time and public expense.

Biological roadblocks to embryonic stem cells offering medical solutions include genetic instability when matured in a petri dish, unreliable cell performance, a tendency to form tumors when implanted in adults, chromosome defects when cultured extensively, and rejection. If cloning is needed to overcome rejection, the already long odds against these cells returning benefits equal to their colossal research costs grow exponentially longer.

Yet, science and industry claim the right to gamble with American lives and public resources to pursue speculative benefits at very long odds — benefits that can be more readily gained by working with nature’s design for organ repair, adult stem cells and cord blood. This by itself leads me to believe that the President’s ‘stem cells’ policy is exactly in line with America’s best medical interest. The following makes me sure of it:

The aforementioned roadblocks are safety issues that cannot be ignored. Therefore the public can’t simply place a small bet on embryonic stem cells to cover all bases. To develop embryonic stem cells for broad medical uses, nature demands that we place the greatest portion of our stem cells investment on the option with the least chance of success and the longest road to travel. If the long shot eventually does pay off, uncounted millions will suffer or die while waiting.

Social Helter Skelter

The public was initially told that embryonic stem cells would produce “miracle” cell-based cures. Scientists now admit this is unlikely. Instead we’re told that embryonic stem cells produced through cloning might produce “disease models” for studying genetic diseases and human cells for testing drugs. However, these ‘promises’ may be equally false.

Vast differences in genetic programming, cell membrane receptors, and cell environments between embryonic and adult cells make it highly unlikely that studying defects in embryos will lead to effective treatments in adults — it’s like expecting a defective Apple computer that’s running one program to reveal how to fix a defective IBM that’s running another. Moreover, drug companies test drugs on tissues and cells as close as possible to those of adult humans for good reasons: Embryonic tissues lack the cell membrane receptors and genetic expression needed to make test results relevant to adults.

The only aspect of embryonic stem cell and human cloning hype that’s likely to be true concerns their potential for financial rewards. However, the public was led down this primrose path for “treatments and cures,” not economic growth. Plus, unspoken in this economic ‘promise’ is the monstrous reality that countless millions will suffer horribly so that a relative few might financially prosper.

For the past five years the media and science have used lies, gross distortions, and shameless research frauds to mislead the nation regarding serious matters of public health. While tens of millions suffer for lack of effective treatments, the public is encouraged to invest billions of dollars not in practical paths to treatments or cures, but to buy penny ‘embryonic’ research stocks that offer little foreseeable clinical worth. Should we be surprised that those promoting this agenda demand that ethics should have no place in politics or science?

Hard-Earned Lessons

Countless lives hang in the balance over the course of science, including those needing treatments now and those who will need them in the future — all are being exploited both for financial gain and as pawns in a social war.

Since becoming active in stem cell issues I’ve seen politicians ready to mislead the public for political gain and industry ties, out of blind conformity to worldview agendas, or in obedience to party platforms. I’ve met others willing to risk their careers over moral beliefs. Like carrion crows over a field of battle, the media gorges on this division with biased reporting for social control.

It took me 30 years to recognize the social worth of politics, religions, and principles. I had to almost die, face paralysis for life, study the science of my condition, and see a global push to exploit it. I had to want something badly enough to look past my ego and mistrust to see that moral concerns regarding all human life have become Man’s best hope for medical progress.

America needs to step outside its political, worldview, and religious differences to stand united for the future. Concepts such as right and wrong, truth, ethics, practicality, and common sense belong as much in science as in any area of human endeavor — perhaps more so considering the level of public trust involved and the human stakes.

If we decide with our votes this November that science is above ethics, morals, and public oversight, if we pretend with our votes that cramming square embryonic pegs into round holes is the path to miracle cures, all mankind will suffer for our mistake.

Written By

As director of The Cures 1st Foundation, Mr. Kelly promotes practical uses of research resources. Kelly, who suffered a 1997 spinal cord injury, lives with his wife in Colorado and serves as the biotech writer for The Seoul Times.

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