By Don C.  Reed

Think of a little plastic dish full of salt water, a Petri dish. And floating in the water are a dozen tiny dots,  almost invisible:  fertilized human eggs, or  blastocysts.

According to a recent decision of the Alabama  Supreme  Court, these microscopic dots are actual  children. (1)

This is personhood, a political re-definition of life itself, and it may have devastating consequences.

To start, it could make it impossible for  couples to have a child by the In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) procedure. IVF is not  an uncommon procedure;  in 2021,  it accounted  for 2.3% of all births in America: 86,146 infants. (2)

Consider the procedure: when a childless couple tries to have  a  baby by IVF, they   first make fertilized eggs  ( 10 or 12), and will keep these nearly invisible bits of tissue in a dish of salt water. The healthiest  two will be inserted into the  woman’s womb: where, it is hoped, one will implant in the uterine wall and become a baby.

Now.  After the blastocysts are inserted, what happens to the “left-overs”, the other ten  fertilized eggs? If these are real children, can  they be frozen and stored for later use? You could not  do that with a two-year-old.  If a blastocyst  is  an actual child,  could you discard it?

In real life, of course, fertilized eggs are not children.  It  is biologically impossible  for that dot in a dish to become  a  child, unless it is  implanted in the  womb.

No  womb, no baby;  this is not rocket science.

But if the political decision  stands,   and every  fertilized egg is a child?

Would it not criminalize the IVF  procedure? If those   sperm-egg   combinations are  children, “left-overs” cannot be disposed of legally. You cannot freeze them, or incinerate  them,  or add them to the landfill—so what do you do with them?

Also, this new definition of human life  would ban Embryonic  Stem C ell research (hESC)—because  that uses fertilized eggs.

Why would this matter?

My son, Roman Reed, is paralyzed,  due to a spinal cord injury incurred in a college football game, 30 years  ago. Since then, we have been involved in research which may one day lead to a cure.

Initial funding came from a law named after him,  the  Roman  Reed Spinal  Cord  Injury Research  Act of 1999.  A paralyzed  rat was given embryonic stem cells—and the rat walked again. (3)

The  rat’s name was Fighter, and on  March 1, 2002, I held her in my hands.  I felt the tiny muscles, struggling to be  free.    When I set her down, she scampered  across the  purple plastic  swimming  pool, which was her play area.

This was opening day of the Roman Reed  Laboratory.  The late Christopher  “Superman”  Reeve spoke to us on the phone, saying: “Oh, to be a rat this day!”

I was writing a book at the time,  and  Christopher gave me  a quote  I could use,  saying:  “One day,  Roman and  I will stand up from our   wheelchairs,  and  walk  away from them forever.”

Important:  the treatment must be  administered  as soon as  possible after the injury: in the first couple of weeks, called the  acute stage. According to my understanding, the longer period of time (chronic) showed no improvement.

But when the therapy was given 5 newly-paralyzed humans?

“Following the treatment, all patients showed significant improvement in their sitting balance, control and sensation of bowel and bladder, power and movement of limbs (lower limbs and upper limbs). No adverse events were reported.” (4)

This had real-life  benefits. For  example,  Jake J. was  able to continue on with his college career;  Katie  S. is currently working  for the California  Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

Their lives are a struggle,  but  each of the five did receive some improvement,  and part  of the credit must  go to those little cells in a dish: embryonic stem cell   therapy.

I am neither  scientist nor  doctor. But still I have seen enough to know  we must not  shut ourselves off from these  incredibly  promising cells.

Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent,  meaning they can be turned into any kind of  cell, perhaps to replace missing or  damaged cells of the heart  or liver. Also, being human tissue, they might be useful to test  new drugs.

Might there be a way to  “tweak”  the procedure, so stem cells could help patients  with longer-lasting(chronic) paralysis?  I don’t know—but  I want the scientists free to find out.

Because no one has the right to deny my  son his chance at cure.





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