Stem cells are producing miraculous results without sacrificing young human beings in the process. Take Susan Fajt and Laura Dominguez, for instance.
Fajt, a paraplegic, and Dominguez, a quadriplegic, were told they would never walk again after separate debilitating automobile accidents damaged their spinal cords. However, both are beginning to do just that after transplant surgery using their own stem cells, thus adding their names to a growing list of patients being successfully treated by the cells at the center of a national debate.
Stem cells are the body's master cells that produce other cells and tissues. Their discovery has provided hope for treating a host of afflictions.
These master cells can be found in embryos and adults, as well as such sources as placentas and umbilical cord blood. Many researchers and their allies are pushing for the federal government to fund embryonic stem cell research, contending stem cells from embryos are more flexible and possess more potential to provide cures than those from other sources.
Two problems exist with their argument: (1) Extracting stem cells from an embryo destroys the young human being, and (2) laboratory experiments with embryonic stem cells have proved ineffective, even disastrous, in animals.
Non-embryonic stem cells, however, already have provided successful treatments in human beings, according to numerous reports. Fajt and Dominguez are two of these success stories. Their search for a cure led them both to pioneering surgeon Carlos Lima in Portugal. He transplanted their own stem cells from the olfactory tissue between the nose and brain to the location of the injury in the spinal cord. Now, though both continue to use wheelchairs, they can walk with braces.
Success stories like these have caused the private sector largely to fund non-embryonic research, "because that's where the results are," Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kansas, said.
For three years, President Bush has stood firm in refusing to permit federal funds for stem cell research that destroys embryos, but there is intense pressure from Congress, advocacy groups, researchers, and Hollywood celebrities to back down.
The sanctity of the embryonic human being causes many others to oppose such a compromise.
"Everyone wants to see treatments and cures for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and the other diseases that contribute to human suffering," said C. Ben Mitchell, a bioethics professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. "But the means to achieve the goal must be ethically justifiable. Human embryonic stem cell research simply cannot meet that requirement. Human embryos should not be cannibalized for their cellular parts."