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STEM CELL RESEARCH

by Cynthia M. Peterson M.D.

I have been asked to speak to you today for two reasons. First I am a Medical Doctor, but I have also had five children. Two of whom were born with a medically untreatable condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1. This is a fatal condition. Medical Science has nothing to offer these children. Kelly died at the age of 9 months, the average lifespan of those with this disease. Sarah is 19 months old. The longest children live with this disease is 2 years.

So as a doctor, and the mother of 2 children that medicine has nothing to offer, when I heard about Stem Cell Research, I wanted to know if this could help my children in any way.

You say Embryonic Stem Cell Research and immediately certain people come to mind. People like Nancy Reagan, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeves. These people are pleading with us to fund Embryonic Stem Cell research. They say it will relieve suffering. We all want to relieve suffering, but that is not the real issue. The issue is what they are asking us to do in the hope of relieving suffering.

Stem cell research in theory is very easy to understand.

A Stem cell is like a blank cell. It can, in theory, develop into any of the cell types in our body.

The hope is that one could take these stem cells, and push them to develop into the cell we want, for example pancreatic cells in a patient with Diabetes. These cells would then be placed in the patient where they would identify the damaged tissue and replace it, thereby curing the disease. In theory, you could do this for any number of diseases. Diabetes, Parkinson's Disease, Spinal Cord Injuries and Alzheimer's Disease are just a few of these.

That's very exciting stuff. It really is.

How do we get these stem cells?

In Embryonic Stem Cells, they are taken from a human embryo.
A human egg is combined with human sperm and a human embryo is created. It is allowed to grow 5-7 days. It is then broken apart, its cells removed and plated out in the laboratory, thereby creating an embryonic stem cell line.

It is important to understand that the embryo is DESTROYED in this process.

This is the same life form that In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) clinics create and place in a mother's uterus and allows a human infant to be born 9 months later. There is no difference. Only that one embryo is allowed to grow into a baby, and the other is destroyed for its cells.

The Church teaches us that a human being is created at conception. Science teaches us the same thing. This is not disputable.

We are being asked to make the decision: Is experimentation with the possible advances it may bring worth destroying human beings?

Amidst all the excitement surrounding the possible success with Embryonic Stem Cell Research, the public has been led to believe that the only type of Stem Cells available to us are from the Human Embryo.

This is false.

In fact there are four types of Stem cells available to us. One is the Human Embryonic type. But two other sources of Stem Cells are from the Adult. From tissues such as bone marrow, fat and from the Umbilical Cord and Placenta. Any mother who has given birth to a child in the last 4-5 years knows she has been given the option of banking the blood from her umbilical cord. Why? Because tremendous successes have been made with the use of Adult Stem Cells.

We have been led to believe that only embryonic stem cells have shown any promise in treating human disease.

The fact is that Adult Stem Cells have treated and cured literally tens of thousands of people from over 98-99 different diseases. And if you ask the question how many people have been cured of any disease using stem cells from embryos, the answer is exactly zero. The true cures are coming from Adult and Umbilical Cord Stem Cells. People need to realize that.

What we are being asked to do is clear.

One argument for embryonic stem cell research is: "They are just going to throw them away anyway."

This argument recognizes they are life, but that somehow being caught in a bad situation, such as being frozen, justifies even necessitates, experimentation. Some good must come out this. This is the same logic used to allow human experimentation in Nazi Germany. The Jewish prisoners were just going to die anyway. Let some good come out their lives that could help others in the future.

We cannot answer one problem with one that is equally evil.

Proponents of embryonic stem cell research are trying to blur the issue by using certain terms and phrases such as "well, it is not a person" and as Ron Reagan Jr. did in his speech before the Democratic National Convention, when he said (The cells used in this process) "have no fingers and toes, no brain or spinal cord no thoughts, no fears."

Because an embryo is not in the final form of a child, does not make it any less human. All the genetic material is in place. A unique human being is present. Left alone in its mother's womb it will divide, differentiate and form into a baby in 9 months. Everything about that unique baby is found at the one cell stage. Whether it is a boy or girl, how tall it will be, what hair color etc.

We all learned the life cycle of the butterfly in the first grade. The fact is: you will never have any butterflies if you do away with the caterpillar stage, even if the caterpillar looks nothing like the butterfly. You and I were all embryos. All of our children were embryos. The embryo is the earliest stage of the human life cycle.

The Church, The Holy Father and most physicians say it is never OK to experiment on or destroy another Human Being. The killing of one human for the benefit of another is never morally justifiable.

I love my daughter. I would love to see her grow up. But not at the destruction of another human being. My daughter's life is not more important than another's. whether it has fingers and toes or a spinal cord or not.

In closing:

We must help those who are suffering, but we cannot use a good end to justify an evil means.

Treatments that do not require destroying human life are available.

The choice is not between science and ethics, but between science that is ethically responsible and science that is not.


Reprinted with permission from Cynthia M. Peterson M.D.

*delivered at St. James Catholic Church, Solana Beach California on October 17, 2004


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