Friday, January 28, 2005

Letter to the Catholic Telegraph, Cincinnati

i wrote the following letter in response to an article arguing for complete bans on embryonic stem cell research and cloning for therapeutic purposes. i sent the letter to The Catholic Telegraph on Monday, January 24 and have yet to receive a response. for the moment, I will post my letter without, in some cases, at least, pulling out in the actual chunks of text on which i was commenting - just want to get this up for now.


hi there,

i realize that The Catholic Telegraph intends to present and represent a single point of view, but i wonder if you (in the general sense) are troubled when you see omissions in articles that present the opposite point of view - or any point of view, really.

Dennis O'Connor must be, because he wrote "New Challenge for a New Millennium," in part, at least, because he shares Tony Perkins' sentiments when Mr. Perkins says:

"More than 50 conditions are being treated with adult stem cells. That’s what is most promising. Not one patient has been treated with embryonic stem cells. Additionally, I think the media have done a grave disservice to the American public by promoting this notion that the only promise comes from embryonic stem cell research. That is why we are out here promoting this message, so that people will know the truth."

In other words, the media has omitted the good news about adult stem cell research, and Mr. Perkins and Mr. O'Connor, are doing their best to rectify that error.

If that is the case, however, I wonder whether Mr. O'Connor has brought the same critical eye to bear on his own contribution to that miasma of information produce by what we call "the media."

For example, Mr. O'Connor quotes Mr. Perkins as saying that more than 50 conditions are being treated with adult stem cells (ASC), but offers no substantiation. I have read that there are 50, 65 and 140 conditions being treated and even cured with ASC therapies, but not one of the people quoting those numbers provided a source for the number they cited - can you tell me which number is correct, or where Mr. Perkins got his number? Nor did any of them offer any information as to what kinds of diseases were being treated. I know that there *are* quite a few conditions being treated with ASCs, but the vast majority of them are diseases of the blood - lymphomas and anemias - which is terrific, but it is not the whole story. Not a single neurological disorder has yet been helped by any ASC therapy. Don't you think that is relevant information? (CorCell: Saving Baby's Cord Blood)

Likewise, when Mr. O'Connor cites Father Pacholczyk's assertion that "the bulk of therapeutic successes have been found in adult stem cell use," as opposed to embryonic stem cell (ESC) research, he commits an enormous sin of omission by failing to point out that ASC research has been underway for almost 40 years (NIH: Stem Cell Basics), whereas ESC research has only been possible since 1998, or just over 6 years. Do you think that including that information would change the import of Father Pacholczyk's assertion?

And what about the amount of federal funding that each area of research has received? Between 1998 and the end of 2003, ESC research had received a total of $20 million in federal funding - that averages out to $4 million per year. In contrast, in 2003 alone, ASC research received $497 million in federal funding - $497 million vs. $4 million on a per year basis. I have been unable to find records of previous years' ASC funding levels, but when you consider some 40 years of federal funding, vs. $20 million total for ESC research, the enormity of this omission becomes clearer and clearer. (NIH: Research Funding Areas)

And given the gargantuan disparity in the level of federal funding that is being directed toward each of these research areas, isn't it a bit disingenuous for Father Pacholczyk to assert, and for Mr. O'Connor to affirm by inclusion, that ASC research "might suffer if research money is diverted for the embryonic research?" I think it is disingenuous - what do you think?

Another mammoth omission is any mention whatsoever of excess embryos at IVF clinics - Mr. O'Connor and his sources speak only of the creation of embryos for the purpose of harvesting ESCs, but you know, I have yet to read anyone arguing for that - not actual embryos in the historical sense, i.e., the product of the union of egg and sperm, anyway. No, the actual embryos that are under debate are those that are going to die anyway - those that have been donated to research by the only people who have the right to make such decisions. But Mr. O'Connor avoids that question entirely, doesn't he - and again, I think that is a particularly relevant little tidbit, don't you?

And this last observation is more of a bit of hypocrisy in the anti-ESC contingent than it is an omission, and it is one Mr. O'Connor touches on when he talks about the, perhaps, billions of dollars (again, completely unsubtantiated) that have gone into ESCR and the absence, as yet, of any therapies.

We are often warned by those who oppose ESCR that "there are no guarantees" that it will yield anything, and that even it it does, it won't be for years (see Leon Kass' article Playing Politics with the Sick for an example of the latter.) I am a little baffled by this argument, I must confess, because there are *never* any guarantees with *any* medical research, and *all* medical research takes years to reach a stage where a therapy can be used to treat people. So, what, exactly, is their point? It is like saying to a radio audience while standing in the middle of a parking lot full of cars, "there is a blue car in the parking space next to me." the implication is that its blueness differentiates it from the cars around it - but the reality, which is being omitted, is that *all* the cars are blue. It is brazenly and deliberately misleading.

It seems to me that Mr. O'Connor is guilty of quite a few sins of omission. I am not saying that the other side isn't guilty, too; nor am i saying that ASC research should not be supported. What i *am* saying is that if one is going to point the finger at someone else, one had better examine one's own behavior pretty closely first, or one might end up revealing one's own hypocrisy, as Mr. O'Connor has clearly done.

The sad thing is that anyone, it seems, can publish anything they want, and do so without providing any evidence to support it - and people will read it and believe it, just because it made it into print.

oh, and just a little FYI - regarding the assertion that "Embryonic stem cell research needs to be promoted in animals," *all* research must be first visited upon animals - ASC, ESC, cancer, what-have-you - before it can be tested in humans. And *all* therapies that would ever even be eligible to submit to the FDA for approval *must* be tested in humans first. So to say that ESC research needs to be promoted in animals is really a non-statement - and yet it made it into print, and you an bet your bottom dollar there are people out there now who think ESC research is not being done on animals first, or that doing ESC research on animals is sufficient in and of itself.

And one more little FYI - regarding Daniel Callahan's assertion that "much of the public discussion about embryonic stem cell research to date has amounted to little more than hype, underlining the concern about Hollywood endorsements and fear-mongering about the dangers of letting these kinds of research opportunities go overseas" - again, look to yourself before pointing the finger. If Mr. O'Connor's omissions and disingenuousness do not amount to hype, or spin, I don't know what would. And as far as ESC research, and its promise, being hype, try visiting the website Entrez Pubmed. In the search box, try entering embryonic stem cell research (no quotes necessary) and you will see that almost 18,000 published research papers come up. Is that hype?

i am looking forward to your reply,

No comments: