By Don C. Reed

All but unmentioned in the recent Republican attack on the In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) procedure is the devastating effect it might have on stem cell research.

Consider: a young married couple hopes to have a child. Their doctor tells them about IVF, and they decide to try it.

The man donates sperm; the woman’s eggs are extracted. The biological components are put in a dish of salt water, where some will join and become blastocysts. The most vigorous two or three of these will be implanted in the womb, to hopefully grow and become a child.

The other blastocysts may be frozen and stored, (for a fee, about a thousand dollars a year) shared with another couple, discarded, or donated to medical research. (Note: Cells can only be used for medical research after the decision has been made to discard the tissue.)

At this stage, 3–5 days old, these embryonic stem cells can become any form of human tissue. New cells can be made, for many purposes, such as testing new medicines. Human Embryonic Stem Cells (hESCs) are microscopic dots in a dish, essentially invisible.

Conservative Republicans may oppose hESC, for the same reasons they oppose IVF, mistakenly calling the blastocysts “children”. Many Republicans (125 in the House of Representatives, including Speaker of the House Mike Johnson)) signed on to a bill declaring that life begins at conception — and on that error their objections rest. (1)

Do we need hESCs? The possibilities are huge.

These tiny bits of tissue may replace non-functioning heart cells, repair a damaged spine, or restore liver cells, so a child can eat normally again.

On March 9th, 2009, President Barack Obama signed a bill loosening restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. What a day that was! Bob Klein was there, of course, the leader of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), and the room was packed with scientists and advocates, as President Obama stood up for science. What joy it was when the President came over, and shook hands with my paralyzed son Roman Reed.

Since then, we have not cured paralysis; but we have surely loosened its grip. Newly-paralyzed individuals have been injected with government-approved stem cells, and have recovered measurable upper body strength and control, meaning greater freedom to pursue a career, and less need for attendant care.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of CIRM’s other hESC projects include: working to replace damaged heart cells, attempts to repair arthritis-crippled joints, developing a method to attack diabetes, fighting blindness by transplanting corneal cells, and many more. (2)

The fight goes on. California’s magnificent stem cell program leads the way. While CIRM is non-partisan, I am personally proud to be a Democrat, and think it far more likely that our party will advance the science.

May whomever occupies the White House lend their strength to research for cure.

And may we never “accidentally” lose a promising therapy — by confusing microscopic cells with legal children.

P.S. Just days ago, an Alabama bill was passed (Healthcare Substitute to SB 159. Melson) to protect providers of IVF. Which is all well and good. It does not, however, do anything to protect stem cell research; and it leaves unchallenged the disastrous notion that blastocysts are children.



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