(Thursday, October 18th, 2012)

Obama and Stem Cells

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“Name one thing Obama has done during his presidency,” Cory challenged me. He had just finished explaining to me why he might vote Independent this year.

“He lifted the ban on stem cell research within days of taking the office,” I quickly replied. It was one of those rare instances that I had a solid answer to one of his questions. Rarer, was that he was willing to admit he had forgotten about the lift.  “That’s reason enough for me,” I continued. Unlike my fiancee, I cannot forget about the research because it directly effects my future, among many others with ailments and disabilities. With embryonic stem cell research I stand a chance of walking again. Without it I am forever tied to a motorized wheelchair. Chance. No chance. Yes. No. It’s that simple.

To Cory’s credit, I’m sure most of America has forgotten how quickly the president fulfilled his promise to lift the embryonic stem cell ban because it’s been four long years ago that it happened. The national debt, the economy, unemployment, health insurance fraud–there are many other problems at the forefront of our country today and so it’s understandable that embryonic stem cell research has been pushed to the wayside. However, I want to remind everyone why it’s important–many scientists believe embryonic stem cell research will lead to some sort of solution to paralysis in my lifetime. It just hasn’t happened yet. If Mitt Romney takes to the house and bans research once again, it may never happen at all. To put a halt on the embryonic stem cell progress at this point would be devastating in many ways. But before diving into those reasons and misconceptions let me explain embryonic stem cells for those who are unfamiliar.

Embryonic stem cells are cells formulated seconds after conception, weeks before any kind of human being is plausible (hence why they’re called embryonic cells not embryonic babies). Once initiated, the cells reproduce rapidly with the ability to morph into any kind of human organ. The idea is that embryonic stem cells meme surrounding organs. By placing them into the spinal cord, the hope is that cells adapt to the spinal cord and regenerate or repair damage.  Because this process subjectively deals with a matter of semantics, it’s one of the most misunderstood processes in the world. Instead of a blob of cells, people imagine babies being killed for the rights of another existing human being and I could see how that might be disturbing. I, too, would cringe at that image. But simply, I know that’s not the case. During my final year at Rollins College I fully explored the embryonic stem cell debate in a very long thesis paper. Instead of sharing the long, fifteen page document, however, my hope is to create understanding by sharing basic knowledge and also what I think is important. The pursuit of embryonic stem cell research is just too important not to address at this point.

Reasoning & Misconceptions

When George W. placed the ban on stem cell research in 2001, laboratories and scientist were forced to go elsewhere to pursue the craft. So instead of the world’s smartest people flocking to America, the land once looked upon as the mecca of technology, money and power, many scientists fled America for more open-minded places to practice. Consequently, we lost some of our smartest people to other countries and ultimately lost the title as a World Leader in Medical Science.

What stem cells look like.

Embryonic stem cells are thrown away every day regardless if used in research. The in vitro fertilization (IVO) process requires the conception of an egg and sperm in test tubes outside of the body. Usually a doctor inseminates six to eight eggs and then only attempts to implant about half of the them. What happens to the extra embryonic stem cells? They are thrown in the garbage as waste, even though it is plausible the group of cells will develop into a human fetus. Do we call in vitro doctors baby killers? No. In fact we praise them for their efforts in aiding infertility. Overwhelmed by the excitement of discovering the science to aid those suffering from infertility, it seems we never took the time to sort out the ethical dilemmas and responsibilities that come along with playing God, meaning you can’t create embryonic stem cells for infertility purposes and not for science research just because the idea of giving infertile couples a chance at parenthood seems nice. If embryonic stem cells are allowable for IVO they should be viable for research as well.

Call me selfish, but I’m also willing to admit I place more value on my 34-years of experience on planet Earth over the brief life of stem cells, which remain stem cells for only hours. One reason why is because there are no promises that every embryonic stem cell blob will develop into a fetus, hence why many woman have miscarriages. I, unlike the cells, already exist in human form. To put more importance on a blob of cells because they have the potential to turn into human life–and not because they already are human life–is fantastical. There are simply too many variables.

If still you’re hell bent on titling an embryonic group of cells as human life, then you might want to pull out grandma’s old medical books and give them a read. At hours of conception, embryonic cells have no form, no real shape and no thought process. The cells are just a blob of building blocks, yet still this is what conservative Christians want to label as “life.” I’d argue it’s the exact opposite. First, if the group of cells are never implanted into a woman’s body, they don’t develop into a human fetus.  So how can a blob be defined as a living creature when in fact it can’t survive without a human host? Never mind the fact our society has become comfortable with “pulling the plug” on those who are in eternal comas or diagnosed as brain dead. By definition, these future corpses are “alive” and by law not only do we have the option to end someone else’s life titled a “vegetable,” we use the person’s organs in transplants to save other lives, and then praise the person and his/her family for being so honorable. So why are embryonic cells treated differently? Why can we control the fate of an adult that cannot speak for himself, but not control the fate of a blob of cells that cannot think at all? The logic doesn’t add up. You’d have to consider the brain-dead person as something different than human cells.

The ultimate goal of embryonic stem cell research is to create cures or ways to improve people’s quality of life. For me, a quadriplegic of 14 years, it’s the difference between living independently or by the hand of others. If a scientist could promise better health in exchange for my embryonic stem cells, you better believe I’d give the green light.  And trust me you’d want me to, too. Here’s why:

Along with a million other people with illnesses or catastrophic injuries, I collect tax dollars through Social Security Disability. Fixing someone like me, fixes a much bigger problem–our nation’s overall collected debt. I’m not ignorant enough to think successful embryonic stem cell procedures would solve the problem entirely, but I certainly think it would help. Instead of banning stem cell research and kicking it to the curb as a moral dilemma, what we should be asking ourselves is how much does an embryonic stem cell procedure costs? And how would the solution work with insurance companies? My fear is the science will arrive long before the economics are sorted, ultimately causing more complications and delays in the solution’s institution.

Finally it’s a social issue. While I personally wouldn’t have an abortion, I feel I have no business telling someone else how to treat the issue, just like I having no business telling people who to love, or as Mitt Romney pitched in the latest debate, suggest marriage upon a couple who are simply having a baby together. I guess that’s why I consider myself a liberal.  I’d rather a woman wanting an abortion* to go to a medical professional to seek help rather than go into a back alley and have some one do it for her. Even worse, I’d hate to see any mother attempt to abort her own baby or give birth to the baby only to ignore it. Why would society want to welcome a newborn into the world when 1) it’s not wanted by the birth mother 2) the risk of the infant becoming a societal social problem increases significantly and 3) it costs America money? Anyone?

Embryonic stem cells and their research give me hope. I’m often asked by people in passing if I’ll ever walk again. When I say ‘no,’ each individual usually cringes in response, empathetically tilts his/her head to the side, and asks, “Are you sure?” I always find this particular question funny. I haven’t sat around for the past 14-years, going to ERs, and needing caregivers because it’s enjoyable. I am totally sure I cannot walk. When I hear scientist talk about the probability and success of embryonic stem cells in my lifetime, I can’t help but feel elated with possibility. So when it comes time to vote in November, and for whatever reason you feel undecided which leader to elect, I hope you think of this blog and eventually think of me. “Binders of women” and Republican jokes aside, my future directly depends on President Barack Obama being re-elected. He is the only running candidate that has taken the time to understand the importance of embryonic stem cells. So again, vote. With your vote, comes Obama, and with Obama comes research, with research comes hope, and with hope comes possibility of me walking again. Who doesn’t want to see that?

* When discussing abortion, I mean of it in it’s earliest phases.





One Response to “Obama and Stem Cells”

  1. Piper says:

    It is going to be wild to see what science is capable of when the stem cell research really cranks up again.

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