Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ESCR Goes to Public School

The Rocky Mountain News discussed happenings at the posh Cherry Creek High School where students are, on their own time, raising money for a teacher's embryonic stem cell treatment. It is another sad example of the marginalization of the ethical objections to the research.

The closing quote comes from the paralyzed teacher, Ryan McLean, who teaches sophomore biology:

McLean has used the stem cell issue as a teaching lesson in her biology classes.

"One day I asked the kids, 'Do you know what a stem cell is?' she said. "In fact, in one class I had a kid say, 'Yeah, it's when you eat babies.' That really kind of struck me in an urgent way. So I decided to lecture on stem cells."

It is regrettable that the only ethical objection, if it indeed was an objection, was articulated by a student.

While Ms. McLean insists that students know they are free to disagree with her, can one seriously believe she can present the issue dispassionately? The pressures to conform must be high, which is why the student's words are so remarkable.

Perhaps her student was jokingly referring to the South Park episode where Christopher Reeves sucked stem cells from various fetuses.

Perhaps her anonymous student seriously believed eating fetuses was involved in ESCR treatment. Students say the darnedest things.

Or, perhaps, the student was making the most vivid objection he or she could make in the limited vocabulary of a teenager. While older critics, including myself, often use the rhetoric of "cannibalizing nascent human life," I'm not sure there's a more neutral, useful way to object. After all, some supporters of this research have no shame about accusing people of wanting cripples to stay in their wheelchairs.

Update: there is a possibility this teacher is patronizing a Third World quack.

9News.com reports a local doctor's opinions:
However, Shroff's treatments and those of other doctors in countries like China and Mexico which are less regulated than the U.S. are often dismissed by the medical community here.

Dr. Daniel Lammertse is the medical director at Craig Hospital in Englewood. It is a national leader in spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation. Lammertse says he receives scores of inquiries each year from people who want his advice before they undergo treatments like the one offered by Shroff.

"I can understand the motivation to try and seek treatment to improve their health and their function. That does not mean that I support the treatments that they're seeking because quite frankly, most of those have no scientific validation and in fact, can be potentially harmful," said Lammertse.

Lammertse has a term for the kind of trip McLean is about to take: medical tourism. He says there are two constants he sees from patients after their trips.

"The majority of those patients will return and report to us that they've had some vague improvement in bodily functions, whether that be an improvement in balance or body awareness. I have yet to see any of those patients demonstrate objective positive change in their function that we can measure objectively, and I have seen more than one of them suffer," said Lammertse.

Some activists argue that ethical objections to ESCR funding let other countries' researchers jump ahead of the United States and force patients to go overseas for treatment. It would be quite a twist if by "other countries' doctors," they mean snake-oil salesmen.

1 comment:

GoForward said...

Currently Geron is seeking FDA approval for treatment of SCI with embryonic stem cells. The first phase of the clinical trial may begin the beginning of 2009. This treatment showed significant recovery in the lab and the paralysis community is hopeful it will translate to humans. This is a very exciting time for spinal cord injury research!