Thursday, November 02, 2006

Stem Cell Research & The Media

You likely haven't read it in any of the major newspapers or seen it covered by the CBC, ABC, CBS, Global, CTV, etc..., but there's been a major breakthrough in stem cell research. According to an article by Gudrun Schultz, Scientists in Britain have grown a human liver from stem cells taken from blood from an umbilical cord. In other words, no embryo had to be destroyed; no ethical lines had to be crossed. It was simply good science.

You won't have heard this story likely because there seems to be a very real media bias as regards stem cell research in favor of the mantra that embryonic stem cells provide the "best hope" for scientific breakthroughs. You've likely seen video or heard audio clips of Michael J. Fox's impassioned plea for the passage of a bill that would allow for the expansion of this type of research in order to treat diseases like Parkinson's, from which he suffers. Michael's sincerity is obvious, which makes it all the more important to look at the facts.

Regardless of why those embryos were created - another debate entirely - how do you morally justify their destruction when other alternatives are available? Perhaps the question of the day would be this - why would the mainstream media ignore a scientific breakthrough of this magnitude? This "eureka" type of discovery was covered in London's Daily Mail. These scientists foresee a day when "cord blood from millions of babies born each year is banked, creating a world-wide donor register for liver transplant and dialysis."

Rush Limbaugh's crude accusation that Michael J. Fox was "acting" and exaggerating the effects of his illness are simply a distraction from the real issue: is it a good idea to open a door to questionable scientific practices? My answer is a firm no! Just because we can do something does not mean that we ought to; especially when there is a safe and non-destructive alternative.

According to Schultz: "Research using embryonic stem cells is highly controversial because it requires the destruction of embryos in order to 'harvest' the cells. Further, to this date there has been no success in using embryonic cells to treat any disease or disorder. In contrast, the use of adult stem cells or of cells harvested from umbilical cord blood shortly after the birth of a baby have already been used successfully to treat multiple conditions, including spinal injury and blindness."

The point is this: while Michael J. Fox's condition does tug on the heart strings, it is not a valid argument. Emotion should not - cannot - be allowed to override sound reasoning. One of society's main responsibilities is to defend those who cannot defend themselves. In order to do that we must preserve a healthy respect for human life. Embryos ought not to be created to be destroyed; the U.S. should not open that door, and Canada should not have.

During the reign of our previous Liberal government, Bill C-6 was passed, allowing research on frozen embryos created for in vitro fertilization (IVF) but no longer wanted by the donors. The language of the bill was clear that testing was limited to these embryos. However, already the line has blurred and IVF donors are now being asked to consent to allowing their embryos to be harvested for research - exactly the type of abuse that was feared in the first place. The argument that such legal changes are a "slippery slope" is not mere conjecture, it's history, as Rory Leishman argues in his recent article.

Our culture needs to move off of its trendy pragmatism, and look once again at a moral framework that protects those who are the most vulnerable. We need to stop being lazy intellectually and work through the implications of the decisions we make. The consequences of doing otherwise are frightening indeed.
Post a Comment