Honesty is needed in stem-cell debate
Editor's note: The Star-Bulletin editorial mentioned in this column distinguished between adult and embryonic stem-cell research.
Penny Thomas' wonderful story (Star-Bulletin, Oct. 30) of treatment from Parkinson's disease as a result of retinal stem-cell therapy in China is cause for celebration -- and for aggressive federal funding and focus on the promises of adult stem-cell research.
I suggest, however, that her story argues for precisely the opposite case than the one made by the Oct. 31 editorial, "Stem Cell research is promising amid controversy."
Failure to distinguish between adult and embryonic stem-cell research and the attendant ethical concerns and controversies associated only with embryonic stem-cell research leads, at best, to unproductive discussions. It leads, at worst, to divisive and uncharitable debates, like the kind between Rush Limbaugh and Michael J. Fox.
As an opponent of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, I'm disgusted at the tactics of Limbaugh and those who would attack Fox or any sincere supporter of embryonic stem-cell research. Such attacks are wrong, period.
Unfortunately, they also detract from the public's ability to hear a reasoned and thorough opposition to the false claims made in Fox's TV ad and to hear an important debate of a complicated issue.
Why is it that no discussion of stem-cell research these days ever begins at the beginning? Let's start there.
Adult stem-cell research, like the kind that helped Thomas and Don Ho, poses no ethical dilemmas. It is fantastic and should be pursued vigorously. In it, cells from body parts such as umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, skin and body fat cells are used for regenerative purposes. No human life is destroyed in this process. It is a win-win, if there ever was one. There have been exciting and dramatic developments in adult stem-cell research that hold out great promise for medical advancements.
But there have been no successful therapeutic treatments with embryonic stem-cell research -- none. Many scientists still believe embryonic research holds the most hope. Fair enough. But they still need to be honest about where we are in the process. It is not honest to continue to say embryonic stem-cell research is more promising without conceding that it has not yet demonstrated the same benefits of adult stem-cell research.
The bottom line is that embryonic stem-cell research destroys human life at its earliest stage for experimental research purposes. There simply aren't enough human embryos to suit the scientific desires. Many scientists want government funding to create new human life through human cloning for the very purpose of destroying the new life in research experiments.
The public definitely opposes cloning. Yet this kind of therapeutic cloning would quickly follow on the heels of federal funding of embryonic stem-cell study. So too would the likely exploitation of poor women whose eggs would be sought. Some feminists groups have concerns about embryonic research for this reason.
So while all thinking people understand the noble desires of those who support funding embryonic stem-cell research to find cures for diseases, we simply can't support taxpayer funding of experiments that include the intentional destruction of human life. Like it or not, that is a principled, reasoned position shared by a good portion of the public.
Unfortunately, some supporters of embryonic stem-cell research, however, have suggested otherwise. We appreciate that your editorial certainly didn't go there, but many others have.
They've suggested that all opponents of "stem-cell research" (as they falsely assert, again failing to make the distinction) are anti-science and anti-progress and even uncaring about those with diseases. They further have attempted to marginalize embryonic stem-cell opponents as extremist and dangerous.
We're not. That kind of debate is dangerous to productive discussions and to progress on complicated issues.
So, let's continue to have the debate about federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. But let's be clear about its terms and charitable in our discussion.
And as we're having it, let's move ahead with funding and focus on the adult stem-cell research that has given Penny Thomas her new lease on life.
Kelly Rosati is executive director of Hawaii Family Forum and a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii.