Human Exceptionalism

Bunk: Company Sells “Personalized” Embryonic Stem Cells

This front page story in the SF Chronicle, byline Bernadette Tansey, needs comment.

A San Carlos startup is offering to create “personalized” stem cells from the spare embryos of fertility clinic clients on the chance that the cells, frozen and stored away, may some day help a family member benefit from medical breakthroughs. The novel business plan of StemLifeLine Inc.–which started promoting its service to fertility patients earlier this year as “insurance for the future”–set off a flash fire of protest from stem cell research opponents and supporters alike.
The outcry from anti-abortion groups wasn’t surprising…But some of the most fervent denunciations of StemLifeLine came from vigorous supporters of embryonic stem cell research. Two Stanford University critics aired their complaints in newspaper editorial pages. A prominent Stanford ethicist challenged UC San Francisco scientists who are advisers of the company to sever those ties. These critics accuse StemLifeLine of trying to profit from the promise of stem cell research in the present, even though the work may not yield medical treatments for decades, if ever. “These companies are essentially taking advantage of people’s ignorance and fears to make a buck,” said David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.


Well, waddya know: Accurate reporting and a proper response to this nonsense from the scientists and bioethicists. I would add that embryonic stem cells from a fertilized embryo would never be “personalized” because the genetic makeup of the embryo was unique to the embryo. Parents or siblings using the stem cells might still need immune response suppressing drugs. Also, ES cells cause tumors. Also, where was Magnus, who states in the story that these treatments might not be available for thirty or forty years, during the passage of Proposition 71 and Amendment 2? Somehow that truth never got into the ads or puff piece media stories.

So, let’s be clear here: The reason companies such as this–which is charging $7000 to make the cell line and $350 a year for storage–is able to sucker people into destroying their own offspring for their own hoped-for medical benefit, is that “the scientists” hyped this research to the hilt to pass Proposition 71 and destroy the Bush funding policy. If consumers are confused, they and their media and politician camp followers deserve the blame for the confusion.

But good on Tansey for a well-reported story. True, she mentioned it might provide a cure for Alzheimer’s, which is almost surely wrong. But unlike so many of her colleagues she did a good good job of getting the science and the politics right.

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