“Embryonic Stem Cells lead to Miracle Cure!”
This startling headline is still waiting to be written. But wait, aren’t stem cells credited with a number of extraordinary recoveries? Yes, but you can thank adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells for such medical breakthroughs. This distinction between stem cell types gets lost in the fog of public fervor for embryonic stem cell research and the media hype by journalists and others pushing pro-choice policy. They insist that it’s OK to kill live embryos in order to harvest embryonic stem cells because, in their primitive state, such cells have the potential of becoming any and all types of body tissue. (see Stem Cell Crash Course.)
After decades of research, however, these cells are still deemed unfit for trials in humans because cell lines developed from animal embryos tend to cause cancerous tumors or are rejected by the animal’s immune system. No one can cite a cure or point to one human patient who has benefitted from embryonic stem cell therapy.
The case is just the opposite for adult stem cells, which have an impressive record of success in hundreds of human cases. The term “adult” means the cells are harvested from the patient’s own body at some point after birth, eliminating the moral dilemma of destroying an embryo. And since they are taken from the same body, they are not likely to be rejected by the patient’s immune system.
Adult (not embryonic) stem cells have been credited with repairing damage from heart attack, stroke and even spinal cord injury. They offer new hope for victims of anemia, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and restoring sight by growing new corneas. Anyone with a spinal-cord injury probably knows the name, Dr. Carlos Lima, of Portugal. In an innovative surgical technique, Dr. Lima has demonstrated how adult stem cells and other tissues from the patient’s own nasal mucosa can restore sensation and movement. One of his patients, a quadriplegic from a 2001 auto accident, can now move her upper-body and her feet well enough to walk with braces.
In a similar case, South Korean researchers transplanted adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood into the damaged spinal cord of a woman whose legs had been paralyzed in an accident 19 years before. Within three weeks, she was able to take steps with the aid of a walker.
Who saw this coming? The argument favoring embryonic stem cells over the adult variety was always based on their versatility – the ability of the cell to multiply and morph into the specific tissue types needed to repair an organ or treat disease. But in November, 2007, separate teams of scientists from Japan and the U.S. claimed to have used gene technology to successfully reprogram adult stem cells back to a primitive embryonic-like state from which they can be transplanted and morph into heart, nerve or other human tissue. No embryos are destroyed in the process.
Many hurdles and lab experiments remain before the proper controls are in place and clinical trials on humans begin. The new reprogramming technology is something any scientist with basic technology in molecular and cell biology can do and puts ethical stem cell research back on the fast track. This development could finally derail the argument for killing embryos but don’t count on silence from the pro-abortion side.
Why do they beat your conscience to a pulp? “How can you deprive a paraplegic, a cancer victim or your grandmother with Alzheimer’s a glimmer of hope, knowing there’s an endless supply of embryos offering a miracle cure?” The embryo killers continue: “Just imagine yourself confined to a wheel chair for life or suffering the intolerable pain of cancer… there’s no price you wouldn’t pay for a miracle … besides, how can you equate microscopic embryonic life with that of a mature adult?” Appearing insensitive to such emotionally-charged pleas can brand you cold and heartless, or even cost you an election.
Why do they beat your conscience to a pulp? Because if for some reason you buy into the killing of faceless, innocent humans called embryos, you’ve lost the abortion debate as well. There’s so much scientific evidence today of human life at the embryonic stage, the secular, pro-choice crowd is clearly asking to get away with murder.
Ethics vs. money: With its dismal track record, embryonic stem cell research has had little success attracting Wall Street and private investors. To compensate, advocates must go after legislators for government research grants and other public funding. They solicit testimony from high-profile figures like the late Christopher Reeve, and others enduring a life of hopelessness. Such heart-wrenching personal pleas compensate for the lack of evidence of clinical success to get the federal funds flowing. Toward the end of his life, Reeve admitted that he may have placed too much hope in the “embryonic” side of stem cell research. The foundation bearing his name, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, confirms those views with funding more heavily weighted toward adult stem cell research. Likewise, Ron Reagan had championed embryonic stem cell research until after his father’s death when he learned from respected sources that such research was extremely unlikely to be the answer to his father’s Alzheimer’s. It’s no mystery that the multi-$billion biotech industry is most heavily invested in adult stem cell research which has given hundreds of patients some hope of a return to normal life.
Secular scientific arrogance: Medical textbooks along with human embryologists worldwide agree that the life of a human being begins at conception. It’s also scientific fact that human beings can be produced both sexually (via fertilization) and asexually (via cloning, or genetic engineering). But researchers aren’t about to let traditional morality and regard for human life get in the way of scientific discovery. They don’t want religion or government telling them which uncharted areas they may or may not explore. For them, embryonic stem cell experimentation is bigger than curing the seriously ill. It’s about moving into eugenics, and the ability to manipulate human life to fit their wildest visions and beyond, wherever that takes us. Meanwhile, pro-life scientists who apply their personal, moral views in the academic and scientific communities often face exclusion, and may be denied tenure or see their works go unpublished.
What do the polls say? When asked, "Do you believe it is morally acceptable or morally wrong for medical research to use stem cells obtained from human embryos?" 62% said, "acceptable," only 30% said, "wrong" (Gallup poll, May 2011.) Yet, poll numbers are practically reversed when people were asked that same month how they feel about abortion: 61% of adults were opposed to most or all abortions. 37% want abortion legal in most or all circumstances. Is abortion morally wrong? 51% of adults said "yes," 39% said abortion is "acceptable."
The British now grant licenses for cloning techniques to create embryos for harvesting stem cells. France, Germany, Austria and Ireland, and several other nations have totally banned the creation of embryos for stem cell research.
What is an adult stem cell? Read this stem cell Crash Course: