What does Embryonic Stem Cell Research Mean to Us?

The Federal Appellate court today vacated the ban on embryonic stem cell research. This means that instead of a measly $40 million dollars, the research that can save lives and cure neural and blood diseases will now receive something like $125 million from the federal research allocations. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to things like energy research and oil exploration which receive billions, but it is a start at least.

Yes, I am in favor of embryonic stem cell research. Before you jump all over me, let me give you a few of my reasons.

First and foremost, this research is being done for the express purpose of curing degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Damaged adult neural tissues do not regenerate in any useful fashion, so a means of repairing them is needed, badly. Alzheimer’s eats away at the brain, destroying memory and linguistic functions and literally erasing the personality and mind. I work in an elder care facility and I see the devastating results of these diseases every day, so don’t even try to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Secondly, this research could be used to tailor treatments for more exotic and less-common diseases that aren’t ‘economical’ for pharmaceutical companies to develop treatments for. My mother died of a rare bone marrow disease that has no real treatments other than mild chemotherapy which eventually destroyed her capability to make red blood cells. This might have helped save her life had it not been blocked by religious conservatives.

Thirdly, there is a real possibility of re-growing new organs, eliminating the need for anti-rejection drugs during and after transplant operations. The new organs would simply be perfect for their recipients. I really like that idea.

Fourthly, we are talking about embryonic stem cells. These cells are harvested from a tiny ball of cells about five days after fertilization. The ball has about 50-100 cells, none of which has differentiated yet and which hasn’t even implanted into the uterine wall. It’s about the size of the tip of a needle. No brains, no organs, no hands, fingers, toes, nothing. In fact it isn’t even an embryo—it’s called a blastocyst.

These cells are harvested from excess fertilized eggs resulting from in vitro fertilization procedures and would normally be destroyed, usually by cremation or chemical means. Furthermore, this is done with the full permission and understanding of the couples having the in vitro procedure done—they are using their personal difficulty to save the lives of others.  They have my gratitude for their courage.

The Appellate Court has my thanks for their decision. This is an exciting path of research that has the capability of helping us all—a good slice of the population is at risk for both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, remember that. I see no difference between this and an organ transplant, really.  All I see is the capability to save and improve lives far beyond anything we’ve been able to achieve so far.

Find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita.

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