Monday, October 4, 2010

Depoliticizing Stem Cells

The 2010 World Stem Cell Summit is going on right now in Detroit.

The event featured a public education day at the Detroit Science Center.

There are so many benefits to stem cell knowledge research -- from revolutionizing human organ transplants, to cures for cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease, to economic benefits for everyone.

Stem cells are a new and dramatic discovery that can bring hope for the future, and hope to those who live with these conditions now.

Yet, the biological has become political through language.

Postmodern feminists -- who deconstruct language to discover how it perpetuates oppression -- would surely agree.

I caught "Stem Cells -- Untold Stories" on NPR while driving home from school.

On the program "Being," host Krista Tippet talks with Dr. Doris Taylor of the University of Minnesota.

Taylor believes that the whole political debate over stem cells could have been avoided if different vocabulary had been used at the onset and that "divisive flashpoints" and moral confusion surrounding stem cell research is due to "miscommunication and misunderstanding of the facts."

Taylor dispels fear surrounding the terms "embryonic stem cells."

The perception that a human fetus is used to create these cells is simply not true, she says. This perception is "based on fear and misconception."

Fetal cells are not stem cells. Fetal cells are too old to be stem cells as they have already differentiated and to form organs. And stem cells do not come from aborted fetuses.

Embryonic stem cells come from fertilized human eggs that were stored for possible
in vitro fertilization.

Taylor points out that if these cells are not used for reproductive purposes -- they are simply thrown away and the opportunity to learn more about our bodies is lost.

Also fertilized eggs with diseases or genetic mutations that would never be implanted provide an opportunity to discover how these genetic differences occur.

To his credit, President Obama lifted the ban on federal funding for stem cell research. If we apply Taylor's explanation, we can see that his decision was based on facts and not on the emotional connotation of rules.

Listen to Krista Tippets interview with Dr. Doris Taylor in its entirety. It's time well spent.

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