Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Stem-Cell Research : Knocking Helmets with Rik Bonness

In a recent column in the Omaha World-Herald, embryonic stem-cell research advocate Rik Bonness basically called Dr. Sheryl Pitner a liar.

I quote or paraphrase Bonness.

BONNESS: In her Aug. 12 column in the OWH, Dr. Pitner didn't talk about accomplishments in research with embryonic stem cells.

ANSWER: That wasn't the point of her column. The point was to explain why the push to destroy fertility clinic embryos is about politics, not science. That supply is relatively small and of limited scientific value. The purpose is to get society comfortable with destroying embryos so it will be easier to move into mass production and destruction of embryos for research.

BONNESS: Dr. Pitner didn't mention that 80 Nobel laureates agree that embryonic stem-cell research has the most potential for significant discoveries to treat numerous diseases and medical conditions.

ANSWER: What are their fields? They are not all stem-cell researchers. The medical science community is as confused as the general public because of the way successes with adult stem cells are exploited to feed the hype for embryonic stem-cell research, and the way the ultimate plan for obtaining stem cells -- clone and kill -- is hidden.

Anyway, it doesn't matter if prize-winning scientists are willing to cannibalize embryonic human beings for research. It's still wrong.

BONNESS: In 2001, President Bush restricted government funding to 22 existing embryonic stem cell lines. Since then, more than 100 new embryonic stem-cell lines have been developed, many of them linked to specific illnesses. These cell lines are not available to most American scientists, however, because of the president's 2001 restrictions.

ANSWER: President Bush was the first president to approve federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Critics are mad that he approved funding for research using existing embryonic stem cells, but not for stem cells from destruction of additional embryos.

There is no restriction on private pursuit or funding of embryonic stem-cell research. Apparently Bonness means that he wants more tax dollars available to buy embryonic stem cells from private sources that are hoarding them. But if embryonic stem cells are the superstars of the 21st century, why is the private sector investing in adult stem cells rather than embryonic? Why does embryonic stem-cell research have to go begging to government for tax dollars?

Could it be the absence of scientific evidence to back up the hype? Could it be the few brave researchers who dare to point out that embryonic stem cells do not appear to function properly outside the embryonic environment in mature tissues, where they go haywire and produce tumors? Could it be the fact that cloning will be necessary for embryonic stem-cell research to have a shot at fulfilling the expectations created by the hypesters?

It's interesting to watch pro-embryonic advocates backpedal on cures. They used to shout about future Christopher Reeves getting up out of their wheelchairs and future Ronald Reagans being liberated from the ravages of Alzheimer's if only we would get cracking and start putting embryonic stem cells into people to cure them. Now they are throwing cold water on the expectations they have built, settling for more modest speculation about basic research into diseases.

BONNESS: Is it better to discard fertility embryos that will not be implanted - even if it's a small number - than to use them for potentially life-saving research?

ANSWER: Yes. The embryos already have been dehumanized and treated as commodities once. It is not ethical to compound the indignity by using them as raw material for medical experimentation. Even death row inmates are granted the human dignity of not being exploited for medical experimentation.

BONNESS: Of the 72 successful treatments of diseases in humans with adult stem cells, Dr. Pitner didn't mention that only 9 have been approved by the FDA.

ANSWER: So what? Click here for video testimonies of people successfully treated with adult stem cells for a variety of conditions.

It is, by the way, infuriating that the federal government moves so slowly in regard to adult stem-cell research. People are having to go overseas to get adult stem-cell treatments they ought to be able to get in America.

BONNESS: Adult stem-cell research is not a substitute for embryonic stem-cell research. Until we discover cures and new therapies for the many diseases and disorders that could benefit from stem-cell research, we should support all promising avenues within ethical guidelines.

ANSWER: That's like arguing in the 1850s that paid labor is no substitute for slave labor, so unless you can provide a cheaper and more efficient way to pick and process cotton, we must preserve slavery.

It's wrong to exploit human beings as properties or commodities. Accept it and instead embrace the research that produces results without raising ethical problems.

BONNESS: Finally, a significant omission from Dr. Pitner's column is that, under existing federal law, no federal funds can be used to destroy an embryo to create an embryonic stem-cell line. House Resolution 810, which was vetoed by Bush, would have preserved that restriction, limiting the use of federal funds to the study of new stem-cell lines created with private funds from embryos donated with informed consent.

ANSWER: His point is hard to decipher. Federal funds would have been used for research that would have involved the destruction of fertility clinic embryos to get their stem cells. Perhaps Bonness means that the embryos were not created with federal funds, and that federal funds would not have been used to create new embryos to be destroyed for research.

Dr. Pitner knows all that and made it very clear that the proposal applied only to existing fertility clinic embryos. She didn't "omit" anything. The point of her column was to explain that this melodrama about the fertility clinic embryos is just a warm-up act for the main event -- industrial-scale production and destruction of embryos for their stem cells.

BONNESS: The question of embryonic research, which interweaves science, religion and politics, is complex and controversial, as are most new areas of science.

ANSWER: Why do folks on the other side always drag in religion? Because they can't win on science and they don't like having their political agenda exposed, so they appeal to religious bigotry.

Forget religion. The inconvenient truth is that an embryo, whether created by cloning, in vitro fertilization, or the old-fashioned way, is a 46-chromosome human being at the embryonic stage. The genetic code that makes a person not only human, but one-of-a-kind, is there right after fertilization. That's the science of embryology talking, not religion. Even hero of the secular left Peter Singer says its ridiculous to question whether human life is extinguished when an embryo is destroyed. The creature is alive and human.

BONNESS: We remember the public outcry over the "immorality" of organ transplantation when it was introduced. Now, organ donation is viewed as a lifesaving, noble and widely encouraged choice.

ANSWER: This is downright creepy.

Organs are donated by people who have a spare one, dead people who consented in advance, or dead or dying people for whom another person in a moral position to do so has consented to the donation.

Don't try to argue that it is noble, or even acceptable, for a parent or custodian of a frozen embryo to consent to the cannibalization of that embryo. Organ donation occurs when the donor's life is a spent force. The embryo is not dead or on the verge of death. It is ready to go on living. The people responsible for creating and then killing it are not in a moral position to offer it up for spare parts.

Gee, we're sorry you didn't make the cut in the fertility lottery. And we're sorry we put you in this untenable position where eventually you will freeze to death. But since that is the case, we're going to let researchers tear you apart now and get your stem cells while the gettin' is good.

Get them adopted. If they die, dispose of them in a dignified fashion -- the least you could do after the barbarous way you treated them in life. Or throw them out in the trash. That's better than exploiting them as raw material for medical experimentation.

BONNESS: To arrive at the best answer to this difficult question, we need accurate, complete information and level-headed debate. Dr. Pitner's column did not serve that end.

ANSWER: You failed to meet your own standard, Mr. Bonness.

Click here for the Bonness column.

Click here for the Pitner column.

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