Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Christopher Reeve and stem cell research

Christopher Reeve’s sudden death was very upsetting for many people including myself who admired his courage in dealing with his paralysis. Some people might have just faded from view and become symbols of pity. But Reeve’s star began to shine brighter after his accident and through sheer force of will he used his celebrity and his circumstances to become a cultural icon and a powerful voice for people with disabilities.

The timing of Reeve’s death has brought the issue of stem cell research back to the forefront of the political debate. Many on the right are critical of Reeves for his advocacy of embryonic stem cell research in the belief that this somehow promotes and encourages the killing of unborn children. But this view is based on an extreme religious axiom that I and many other religious people reject. I don’t presume to know what God’s intentions are for each egg and sperm that meet but I do know that we are provided with hundreds of thousands of eggs and countless millions of sperm with which to constantly replenish the human population.

Fertility clinics create thousands of human embryos every year as a matter of course that go unused and are ultimately thrown out. It seems a tragic waste to not take advantage of these stem cells to advance medical science in a way that could benefit thousands of people suffering from everything from spinal paralysis to Parkinson’s disease.
Michael Kinsley makes the point that people who oppose embryonic stem cell research should by the same logic also be opposed to fertility clinics...

If stem-cell research is morally questionable, the procedures used in fertility clinics are worse. You cannot logically outlaw the one and praise the other.

Yet, as Kinsley points out, Bush praised fertility clinics in the same speech in which he banned stem cell research.

President Bush’s decision to ban federal funding for stem cell research is a serious impediment to the hopes of finding cures for these and many other ailments. The argument that privately-funded research can still go forward ignores the fact that most labs today rely on some degree of federal funding through NIH grants and other means. If a lab decides to pursue stem-cell research today it risks losing or being blocked from recieving any other federal funding even for unrelated work because of the complications and possibility of mixing funds.

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