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    Stem cells and false hopes

    Copyright 2002 Institute on Religion and Public Life
    First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life
    August 1, 2002
    SECTION: Pg. 21; ISSN: 1047-5141

    Stem cells and false hopes; Opinion; Column

    BYLINE: Condic, Maureen L.

    We have all witnessed the transforming power of hope--the focus and sustenance hope provides when strength and reason fail to pull us through a difficult situation. Facing tragedy and loss, hope is often the only thing standing between us and the void. Life-threatening illnesses or injuries provide some of the most poignant occasions for hope. We hope that a loved one will survive a critical surgery. We hope that cancer will respond to chemotherapeutic drugs. We hope, often against all odds, that this time, for this one precious and irreplaceable person, death will be thwarted and life will go on.

    When medical science offers no legitimate hope for a cure, desperation and grief can drive people to grasp at any straw that might offer hope to them or to their loved ones. For many, herbal medicine or other "alternative" therapies become the vehicle for hope when medical science has done all it can do. For others, hope comes from beyond the realm of medicine. Faith often takes up at the limits of hope, to turn the eyes of the desperate to the source of all life, all hope, and all salvation. Facing death with dignity requires us to accept our mortality and find peace beyond the hope possible in this world. It is precisely the power of hope, the ability of hope to provide solace and motivation in the most desperate situations, that makes the manipulation of hope such an appalling offense. The selling of false hope is a contemptible exploitation.

    Whatever comfort a false hope temporarily offers, it is far offset by the damage that is caused when the illusion is crushed by reality. Not only do bitterness and resentment replace the optimism a false belief once supported, but for the terminally ill it is often too late to go beyond bitterness and arrive at any kind of peace. To die an angry death, betrayed by hope and cursing those who have lied to you, is a fate few would wish on even their worst enemies.

    It is difficult to imagine anyone so hardened by malice that he would intentionally mislead the desperate merely for the pleasure of watching a false hope deflate when it collides with the truth. Yet desperation is a powerful motivator, and the ranks of the desperate have more than once been exploited for the political, social, and economic gain of the unscrupulous. People with nothing to lose, who view a contest as a matter of life or death, tend to make formidable combatants. Marshaling armies of such "desperados" has been a strategy employed to great effect throughout history. No less so today in some fields of medical science.

    Patients suffering from incurable medical conditions have been repeatedly used to influence the public and legislative debate over embryonic stem cell research. Setting aside the significant moral objections to experimenting on human embryos, there are very real problems with embryonic stem cell research on purely scientific grounds. As I recently discussed in these pages (The Basics About Stem Cells, January), employing embryonic stem cells as a therapeutic treatment for human illness faces the serious challenge of immune rejection by the patient. One of the proposed resolutions to this problem has been to replace the genetic information of the stem cell with that of the patient to generate a copy or "clone" of the patient that could be used as a source of replacement tissue.

    In the face of strong public opposition to human cloning, proponents of embryonic stem cell research have advanced a tried-and-true tactic from the realm of product marketing: when people reject a product, repackage it and sell it under a different name. Thus human cloning has been effectively reborn as "somatic cell nuclear transfer" (SCNT), in the hope of selling a failed product under a different brand name to a public that is understandably hesitant to endorse the cloning of people for spare body parts. The contemptible aspect of this particular marketing scheme is the nature of the target audience and the role of false hope in the sales pitch.

    I recently had a series of conversations with a woman dying of multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a particularly cruel and painful disease that progressively robs a person of the ability to walk, to talk, and eventually even to swallow and breathe. The woman, by all measures a bright and well-educated person, was still in the early stages of her illness and was highly motivated to devote every last shred of her energy to promoting the "cure" offered by embryonic stem cell research. In a very real sense, this was to be her life's work, her legacy. The rage and frustration she expressed at those opposed to human cloning was intense. How, she asked, could people deny her and others in her situation their last, best, and only hope for a cure?

    How, indeed. In the face of such an emotional attack, many are driven to accept the imagined "need" for human cloning. The tragic irony, of course, is that the cure so many desperately hope for is based on nothing more than bald assertion. Proponents of embryonic stem cell research and human cloning have enlisted the ranks of the terminally ill not only to lend credibility to their claims, but to provide the valuable emotional trump-card of "How can you deny me a cure?" Those opposed to human cloning can be readily vilified as standing in the way of a cure--a cure that exists only in the hopes of the desperate and the speculations of a small number of scientists.

    Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the current turn in the embryonic stem cell debate is that there are few constraints on where emotional exploitation can lead us. A year ago, the American public was asked to accept federal funding of research on human embryonic stem cells, based on the unsupported assertion that such research would cure human disease. Less than one year later, we are now being told that generating human clones is required in order for the true therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells to be realized. At both junctures, patients with debilitating medical conditions were brought before the public to provide highly emotional testimony regarding their hope for a cure, and many Americans, swayed by compassion, reluctantly stomached their reservations.

    What will the next twelve months bring? Will we next be asked to accept the need to "culture" therapeutic clones in artificial wombs for a few months until tissue-specific stem cells can be obtained from growing embryos? Perhaps the cloned embryos will need to be grown even longer, until usable organs for transplant can be "harvested." While these scenarios may seem implausible (and would undoubtedly be dismissed as "preposterous" by embryonic stem cell advocates), the generation of human clones in the laboratory appeared to be equally preposterous one short year ago. The point is simply this: in the absence of credible scientific evidence documenting precisely how embryonic stem cells and cloned human embryos will cure disease, one can assert anything one chooses and all things can be equally justified by hope.

    Proponents of embryonic stem cell research and human cloning are well aware that the future of this research cannot be debated solely within the realm of science policy. They have not succeeded in garnering public support on the basis of the scientific evidence, largely because there is no compelling evidence in support of their assertions. Even if strong scientific evidence existed, the equally strong moral objections to this research would undoubtedly persist. Advocates have also not succeeded in defining the matter solely in terms of scientific freedom and the pursuit of knowledge; the history of the last century amply illustrates the need to restrict scientific inquiry in some circumstances. In the face of these failures to recruit the public to their cause, advocates of human cloning and embryonic stem cell research have attempted to recast the issue as one of compassion and hope by marshaling the ranks of the desperate. The strategy appears to be: when you can't win on legitimate grounds, win by any means possible. Such a strategy does not preclude outright deceit and emotional manipulation, all in the name of "hope."

    To offer false hope to the desperate as a means of advancing a political, social, or economic agenda is worse than merely cruel, it is objectively evil. Valuable resources are being diverted from other, perhaps more promising, areas of research, and, in the meantime, patients and their families are serving as pawns in a political arena. People facing the prospect of suffering and death deserve better than this. As patients, they deserve the best that science and medicine can offer. As human beings, they deserve honesty. No amount of false hope can alter the fact that after more than twenty years of unrestricted research on animal embryonic stem cells, this field has failed to yield a single cure for any human illness.

    Embryonic stem cell research and human cloning go to the heart of how we view human life, both at its earliest and its final stages. AS is the case for all matters of life and death, this research raises issues that are both painful and profound. Resolution of these issues should certainly not be based on unfounded speculation and emotional exploitation of those desperately hoping for a cure.

    MAUREEN L. CONDIC is Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, working on the. regeneration of adult and embryonic neurons following spinal card injury.

    James Kelly
    James Kelly

    #2
    There was a time when the hope for a cure for SCI was considered "false hope!"

    Maceyka
    Maceyka

    Comment


      #3
      False hope...

      You are right about false hopes...feels like the truth. I'm a victim that has lost $600,000.00 to these false hopes. I resent the doctors that have mislead me about embryonic stem cell research. Some doctors warned me that this is propaganda. I was crushed by the truth.

      Best regards,
      Arthur

      Comment


        #4
        Who says that it is false propaganda?...I don't think that anyone knows for sure yet

        Comment


          #5
          Arturo,

          Could you tell us what your talking about exactly?

          Comment


            #6
            False hopes...

            After my spinal cord injury two years ago, I read an article that said embryonic stem cell transplants help repair spinal cord injuries in rats. Some animals regain partial use of limbs. Another article quoted "Reeve wants to walk-or at least stand-by his 50th birthday". Blew my mind. You read "false hopes" like this and it just plants seeds. After reading these articles, that's exactly what I wanted to do-to get in. I wanted to go to a country with no FDA and a progressive IRB. I just wanted a human embryonic stem cell transplant outside the USA. I just wanted in. I donated a lot money to doctors and surgeons in hope that I would receive a human embryonic stem cell transplant outside the USA. Many doctors have warned me that this is propaganda, but I wanted to believe in these false hopes.

            Best regards,
            Arthur

            Comment


              #7
              seems like this article is kinda jumping to conclusions

              That Stem Cells will never work? Maybe they will help a lot of people in regenerative medicine in the future. Who knows? Now I know where that statement "God knows" comes from. He must be the only one who knows,lol, us mortals certainly cannot predict the future, not even James kelly.

              "Life is about how you
              respond to not only the
              challenges you're dealt but
              the challenges you seek...If
              you have no goals, no
              mountains to climb, your
              soul dies".~Liz Fordred
              "Life is about how you
              respond to not only the
              challenges you're dealt but
              the challenges you seek...If
              you have no goals, no
              mountains to climb, your
              soul dies".~Liz Fordred

              Comment


                #8
                It's way too early to label stem cells as either "false hope" or "the answer." That's why research has to continue with them - it's only in its infancy now. Same for therapeutic cloning research, which is even earlier in its development.
                Alan

                Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

                Comment


                  #9
                  False hope is better than no hope at all...

                  Comment


                    #10
                    I read articles like this and I have to just shake my head at how hypocritical it is. One point in the article the writer talks about how researchers use critically ill patients to plea their case and how wrong that is. You read a couple paragraphs later and the writer is using the same tactic to sway people the other way with fear mongering about thing that are just as much bald assertions. For the most part almost all researchers will tell you ESC ASC SCNT research is not far enough along to say yea or nea to either one avenue of research.

                    "Even if strong scientific evidence existed, the equally strong moral objections to this research would undoubtedly persist. " The strong moral objection to this research (if you have one) in my opinion will fall to the wayside, if strong scientific evidence comes bear, just like the strong moral objection to invetro fertilization did. I mean when's the last time if ever you've noted someone speaking out against IVF?


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                    Comment


                      #11
                      Wcrabtex:

                      To set the record straight, Dr. Condic may object to cloning and ES research on moral grounds, but I can say with personal certainty that she has strong scientific reasons for taking her stance. A year ago, while I was writing letters to President Bush in favor of ES Research, I happened to call Dr. Condic over a research issue. In the course of our conversation I questioned her about an article of hers that strongly questioned the wisdom of using crucial resources in ES Research, a problematic avenue, the article claimed, who's clinical potentials may lie decades in the future, if even then...especially when the diversion of said resources will slow or cripple research that could actually offer cures in time to save countless lives. Dr. Condic didn't argue with me. She simply referred me to Pubmed and suggested I learn what I was talking about.

                      Anyway, you are correct in saying the point of this article involves ethics and morals. But its primary focus is NOT the morality of intentionally creating and destroying embryonic human life for patented usage, profit motives, and professional advancement. (Note: I don't mention cloning's "therapeutic" applications because I'm not buying into its groundless claims. If you want to, that's your business.) It's that misleading the sick, disabled, and dying with false hopes to serve a personal or industry agenda is more than unethical. It's evil.

                      I couldn't agree more. Please visit "Cloning Rejected" for a clarification.

                      James Kelly

                      [This message was edited by James Kelly on Aug 02, 2002 at 09:01 PM.]
                      James Kelly

                      Comment


                        #12
                        $600,000?? Did you buy a country to have the cells injected? Or did you dig up and clone Einstein? I'd like some details here too especially considering that you have posted exactly twice and those appear to be on this one topic. BTW, where is Fallon?
                        Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow."

                        Disclaimer: Answers, suggestions, and/or comments do not constitute medical advice expressed or implied and are based solely on my experiences as a SCI patient. Please consult your attending physician for medical advise and treatment. In the event of a medical emergency please call 911.

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Arthur,

                          I was also injured two years ago and I know where your coming from on the ESC issue. When I was in the hospital I kept waiting for the Doctors to come in with my stem cells to fix me up. Then I was going to walk out of the hospital and live happily ever after. Well, it's been two years and I'm still sitting here waiting. But, over the last couple of years I've learned a lot. Like research takes time! It sucks but it's true! ECS might or might not end up helping us, but we'll never know if we don't try. The other thing that concerns me is the fact that you donated so much money and got screwed. $600,000.00 is an incredible amount of money. You could have funded Will Ambler's project by yourself three times! I understand how frustrated you must be donating that kind of money with nothing to show for it ,but I think it's too early to say ESC didn't work.

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Arthur,

                            I'm sorry you could have funded Will Ambler's project two times but you would have some change left over for a BMW or a Mercedes.

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Wcrabtex:

                              You're obviously an intelligent person. Therefore, you'll understand that I mean no disrespect by asking that you to follow your own advice on the "Cloning Rejected" thread.

                              For one thing, I don't think you searched for the articles cited by my references, or you couldn't have said that adult bone marrow stem cells have only been used to treat hematopoetic disorders. Please let me know if you can't find them, as I'd be glad to send you the full text articles. (I refer to the Chinese successfully remyelinating a Primary Progressive M.S. patient's spinal cord, the regeneration of heart muscular and vascular cells, the functional improvement of Stroke and TBI patients, the cornial regeneration of patients with degenerative eye disease, etc.) I could also include juvenile arthritis, genetic osteoporosis, and genetic immune deficiency, but they might come under the heading of hematopoetic disorders. However, I will point out that autologous bone marrow stem cells been used in animals at Harvard to cure type one Diabetes. Plus they've been proven to mature into functioning motor neurons when implanted in the spinal cord of rats (it's in clinical trial in Italy for SCI and ALS.)

                              Also, why restrict adult stem cell successes to those of bone marrow stem cells? OEGs, olfactory mucosa, neural stem cells, pancreatic stem cells, schwann cells, and non-stem cells have had (and continue to have) their share of successes.

                              The second point I'd like to make is this: I'm sorry if I suggested that cloning might be rejected. What I meant to clearly state is that not only has it already proven to be rejected in spite of sharing the donor's DNA, but the leading pro-cloning stem cell experts never expected them not to be.

                              And finally (It's 0330 and I couldn't sleep. But even we fanatics need to give our obsessions a break some time:< ), I definitely don't agree that ES are "superior" to anything, in theory or otherwise. (Unless we're looking for the perfect cell to use in the embryo, or for a pie-in-the-sky excuse to waste precious resources on the longest, most problematic, least likely way of curing anyone of anything.)

                              James Kelly

                              [This message was edited by James Kelly on Aug 03, 2002 at 06:31 AM.]
                              James Kelly

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