Friday, November 03, 2006

More on the evils of embryonic stem cell research

The following is an excellent article by Elizabeth Wickstrom, M.D. (I received this via an email post list that I suscribe to). Although this concerns an issue for the state of Missouri, the article deals with embryonic stem cell research and cloning in general. For background on the proposed Missouri state constitution ammendment, see

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: An M.D.'s Perspective

Scientific View from Dr. Wickstrom:
Dr. Wickstrom is Director of the Saint Luke's Perinatal Center at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.
Position Paper Re: Embryonic Stem Cell Research Elizabeth Wickstrom, M.D.

Although I am not a resident of the State of Missouri, and will not, therefore, have the opportunity to vote "No" against Amendment 2 in November, I have taken the time to investigate the subject of Stem Cell Research very thoroughly. Please take a moment to read through this paper. If you don't feel it impacts you directly at this time, it will in the future.

The wording which will appear on the ballot in Missouri to create a constitutional amendment (not just a bill or a law, but a permanent change inthe state constitution) is designed to create the illusion that it prevents scientists from cloning humans, and that it is necessary to pass this amendmentto allow Missouri citizens to have access to any cures which may, eventually, be discovered as a result of this research. There have been two lawsuits brought before the state supreme court, contending that the wording of the ballot title is misleading because it does not accurately describe what the amendment really says. The lawsuits were defeated, however, because - who knew? It's not actually required by law that the ballot title says what the amendment does. Although the judge ruling on the cases agrees that the title on the ballot is inaccurate,there is no legal requirement to change the title before the people vote inNovember. This is only the beginning of the deception.

First, I want you to understand that I am not against stem cell research. However, not all stem cell research is created equal. Stem cells which come from"adult" (as opposed to embryonic) cells, including placental and umbilical cordblood cells, have great pluripotentiality - this means that they have the ability to provide stem cells for any body tissue, if properly modified. Thereare, to date, over 70 treatments and cures using these adult cells, which do not require that any blastocysts or other embryos are destroyed to make them. To date the number of proven cure techniques from embryonic stem cells created by a form of cloning called SCNT is ZERO. No cures. And the technique requires the destruction of human embryos. I support unequivocally the use of adult stem cells in medical research, and have personally collected umbilical cord blood at deliveries for this purpose. Sadly, I throw out much more of this precious resource than I collect, as there is not enough funding to store and use all of this cord blood.

So, what is SCNT [=somatic cell nuclear transfer], and why is it cloning? In this technique, an adult nucleus is placed into the human egg, and the host cells replicate, using DNA from the adult nucleus. This causes tissue to form which has the characteristics of the adult. This is the technique by which "Dolly", the cloned sheep, was created. It is, unequivocally, cloning. However, the writers of this amendment wish to redefine cloning and indicate that it is not "cloning" until the resulting cloneis placed into the womb to allow it to become a baby. The amendment does provide for a $250,000 fine for anyone caught trying to clone a human being. Do you seriously think that this amount of a fine would convince anyone who is close to becoming the first scientist to clone a human to stop and throw awaytheir life's work? Legal re-wording does not change the scientific fact. SCNT is cloning and Amendment 2 proposes not only to protect it, but to fund it with government money. Currently, SCNT is perfectly legal, but there is a ban on use of tax dollars at any level of the government to pay for it - scientists must use their own funds to conduct the research. Therefore, Amendment 2 is NOT necessary to allow this technique to be used, only to use YOUR TAX MONEY to fund it, and to protect the research from appropriate government oversight (more deception). The amendment is designed to protect government funding for SCNT, even to the point that, if a lab is investigated or sanctioned for another reason - any illicit or illegal behavior or the suspicion of this behavior, that investigating body will face a lawsuit for trying to withhold funds from the lab. More deception.

Proponents of this constitutional amendment will lead you to believe that there are millions of frozen embryos which will be discarded if not used for medical science. They have to make you believe this, because over the MANY YEARS of work which will be required to see any result of embryonic stem cell research, MILLIONS of embryos will be needed to create these clones, only to destroy them if they produce, as the early research has done, tumorous masses instead of healthy tissue. (More deception.) The truth is that there are several hundred thousand embryos frozen in storage now, most of which are spoken for by their parents and by "embryo adoption" services for infertile couples. So, if the SCNT scientists are deceiving you by saying they already have millions of embryos,where will the embryos come from? Not out of a freezer, but from the bodies ofwomen who are willing to be paid to subject themselves to super stimulating medicines that cause them to ovulate a dozen eggs at a time. It is one thing for a couple to determine that they will take a risk with these drugs (which have potentially life threatening side effects) for the purpose of gaining the family they have been unable to conceive. Is it ethical for researchers to entice low income, young women to take these drugs? Are there safeguards in place for truly informed consent?

Why are there companies and institutions strongly backing this amendment if it's not a good idea? One family, James and Virginia Stowers have, as of the end ofJune, put over $15,000,000 (that's MILLION) into the propaganda supporting this amendment. Ask yourself why. Stem cell lines created from adult stem cells cannot be patented. They can provide life saving treatments, they can grow into all kinds of human tissue, but the scientist who produces them cannot patent thecell line for profit. Stem cell lines created from embryos can be patented forPROFIT. Big profit. This is why the backers of this amendment are pushing so hard for it. This is why they insist that they are "against" human cloning (as are most Missourians), when, in fact, they are trying to guarantee that they will have access to government funds to promote cloning.

The backers of Amendment 2 will also tell you that his amendment is necessary to provide access to Missouri citizens for "life saving cures". There is no foundation for that statement; it is propaganda and deception, pure and simple. Missourians have access to every other medical technology, whether it was developed in our state, or not. There is nothing specific about the treatmentswhich have already been developed from stem cells, nor treatments which will be developed in the future, that limits their use to the state in which they were developed. As a matter of fact, Amendment 2 provides no upper limit on the amount that a researcher or company might charge for their stem cell based treatments. Therefore, this amendment may actually end up LIMITING access to stem cell based treatments (which would be considered experimental and therefore not paid for by insurance companies, including Medicaid, for many, many years) to only the very wealthiest Missourians.

You may have noticed that I have been writing for seven paragraphs and have not yet mentioned any religious point of view. Every word above has been soundly based in science, not philosophy or religion. The proponents of this amendment have published editorials stating that there are physicians and other medicalpeople who oppose Amendment 2 on the basis of their religious opinions. The editorial suggests that those who read the article check out this list and ask these physicians, before they allow the physician to treat them, whether they will allow their religious ideals to interfere with treating the patient. I think this is supposed to be some sort of threat to those of us who would sign such a statement against Amendment 2, but I'm not threatened by this. I certainly hope that my faith enhances my ability to care for patients through the most difficult times of their lives - the loss of a child or a critical illness of the mother. Threaten away, editorial writer. You do not frighten me. But, as long as he brought it up, here's their idea of the "religious" angle. A blastocyst is an embryo. A human blastocyst is an early human embryo. You and I were blastocycts before we were embryos. If you test the DNA of a human blastocyst, it is human. The blastocysts which must be destroyed for use in SCNT have a unique combination of chromosomes and DNA. They are human. They are unique. The only thing they lack to be considered a "being" is where they are located - in a test tube instead of a uterus. If you were to be sent into space in a space shuttle, and went for a space walk outside of the protective "womb"of the spaceship, would you be any less human because of your location, or the availability of life support systems? No, you would not. Why, then, are these cloned blastocysts not human, simply because they have not yet been placed intothe womb?

Since stem cells are available from other sources, why should we sanction and fund-with our tax dollars - a technology which must, by its very definition, destroy human embryos or else implant them in a woman's uterus, completing the creating of a human clone which is begun by SCNT technology? Please consider this question in November, and whenever this topic of embryonic stem cell research is discussed. Thank you for the length of time that you have spentlooking into this topic with me today.

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