Human Exceptionalism

Dr. Oz Tells Michael J. Fox He is Wrong About Embronic Stem Cells

I hate it when celebrity disease victims are used for political purposes–as was the case, I fear, with Big Biotech and Parkinson’s patient Michael J. Fox, who has spent years telling the country falsely that the Bush ESCR funding policy was keeping people like him from being cured, because that is what he was being told. On Oprah the other day, Fox tried to say that again–but was set straight–gently, as was proper, by a Columbia Medical School professor and (I guess) Oprah regular guest named Dr. Oz. From the show transcript summary (go to page 11):

Michael says America has a lot of ground to make up when it comes to stem cell research. “We had eight years where there was no forward progress and some things people don’t even understand,” he says.

That’s ludicrous and ignorant, of course. Billions have been spent in human ESCR in the USA alone in the last ten years. But they have problems, they cause tumors and may not be usable directly for Parkinson’s (absent cloning) due to tissue rejection problems.

But Dr. Oz says the embryonic stem cell debate is “dead,” which interestingly, is not recounted in the transcript overview, but was stated clearly in the video of the pertinent section of the interview. He then states in the “last year we have advanced 10 years:”

Thanks to recent scientific discoveries, Dr. Oz says [embryonic] stem cells aren’t the only solution. [Me: No, he said they probably weren’t going to work] “We went to a place we never thought we would go,” he says. “I can take a little bit of your skin, take those cells and get them to go back in time so they’re like they were when you were first made.”

Dr. Oz says these skin cells, which contain your genes and are less prone to cancer, will be the ones that are ultimately used to cure Parkinson’s. “I think we’re single digit years away from making a big impact in the lives of [people with] Parkinson’s disease, but also diabetics and heart attack victims,” he says.

He is referring to a different kind of stem cell than ESCs, and that is the induced pluripotent stem cells.

I hope Oz is right about the prospect to treat Parkinson’s and the time frame he predicts. But I am not sure he is right about the science being settled or the stem cell debate being over. Remember, this is an issue that is much bigger than the sum of its parts, not only scientifically, but what it symbolizes about right and wrong and the value of human life, simply and merely because it is human.

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