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Media Misses Larger Stem-Cell Story



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I am not sure why the media so clearly cares more about embryonic-stem-cell research than the ethically uncontentious kinds, such as adult-stem-cell research and the advances with induced pluripotent stem cells. But the headlines usually attached to ESCR advances — as opposed to more notable successes with adult stem cells, which often get no headlines at all — prove the old maxim about the media not letting the facts interfere with the story they want to tell.

For example: The news that one patient has been injected with embryonic stem cells, to see whether they are safe for use in treating acute spinal-cord injuries, has been spread far and wide. (This is primarily a safety test — ESCs can cause tumors — not one intended to quantify efficacy.) The media has mostly acted like New York Symphony cymbal players. But human trials with adult stem cells have been ongoing for several years, and in peer-reviewed studies, they have been shown to restore feeling to people paralyzed with chronic spinal-cord injuries. Had those successful experiments been with embryonic stem cells, it would have made the front page of the New York Times. Yet this hopeful news has received almost no attention.

Indeed, several human trials to treat paralysis using adult stem cells are ongoing. Ditto diabetes. Ditto MS. Ditto heart disease. Ditto many other degenerative conditions that it seems adult stem cells could be efficacious in treating.

In my more cynical moments, I think that many in the media simply consider adult stem cells to be the wrong kind. In any event, the stem-cell issue isn’t a science debate, but an ethics debate. Whatever the outcome of this latest medical trial, that is not going to change.

— Wesley J. Smith is senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His current book is A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement.



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