Jennifer Barnhill: Stem cell research plagued by misconceptions

Jennifer Barnhill

It is common practice to generalize, to reduce whole philosophies and belief systems to a one-sentence sound bite or a buzzword to make it more easily digested by the masses.

Often this stems from the speed with which our society moves, as well as the widely held belief that we as a people are so simple-minded that we can’t, or won’t, be able to comprehend the nuances of big issues. So each side throws out a word or two that promotes their point of view and strikes a blow at the other side. They coin catchy little slogans for their supporters to hurl at each other during protests. Call me crazy, but some things are too important to be reduced to a bumper sticker.

One issue that I’ve yet to see on the rear end of a Buick, but that I’m sure I will soon enough, is stem cell research.

Stating your opinion on this matter gets close to the same reaction as bringing up abortion. Indeed, some would argue that the two are very closely linked and should receive an equally aggressive response. Stem cell research, however, isn’t as split down the party lines as many moral issues. There are people from both wings elated by the recent occurrence of research and funding restrictions being loosened.

The arguments against funding the research are often heavily guided by misconception. Aside from the people who are freaked out and paranoid that it will lead to cloning everyone so that we can harvest their doubles for organs, the big ethical issue is that during the process, a human embryo is destroyed.

While this is true, what detractors fail to mention is that these embryos can be taken from fertility clinics where they would have been disposed of anyway. Which is why the argument that the use of stem cells doesn’t respect the importance of life is absurd. What is a more dignified end for these cast out cells? Ending up in a medical dump, or being used to aid research that could save millions of lives?

It is also misleading to make it sound as if this kind of research is still at the out-there, wacko, experimental stage.

The bone marrow transplants used for decades to treat leukemia are a form of adult stem cell therapy. Research has shown over and over that stem cells could be used in the future to treat everything from Parkinson’s disease to multiple sclerosis to paralysis.

The only ethical issue I see here is that people are standing in the way of scientists who could be devoting their time making this possible sooner. The protection of cells that are already set to be destroyed over the lives of our friends and family who are already here and suffering is far more offensive to my moral sensibilities.

My grandfather was paralyzed for most of my life and a large part of his. Some of my favorite memories are of riding around on the back of his electric wheelchair. His being paralyzed didn’t stop him from being the best grandfather I could ever imagine having. I always remember hearing from my mom that his reaction after being injured wasn’t self-pity, but gratitude for his own life and compassion for the people he met while being treated who’d never had the chance he’d had to live life outside the confines of a chair.

People deserve to have a chance to live their lives to the fullest. If we are in a position to help, to lead the way in something as grand as this, to ease the suffering of the afflicted, to prevent the unnecessary pain that it causes everyone who loves them, how can we say no?

How can we quibble when even now people are sick and dying from things that could potentially be treated if the proper time and money was invested? What would that say about our moral integrity?

The Daily World