Human Exceptionalism

A Warning Too Little and Too Late: Watch Out for Stem Cell “Therapeutic Misperception”

File this in the “talk about Chutzpah!” folder: Two Stanford bioethicists, Mildred Cho and David Magnus, have written a column in Nature Reports Stem Cells bemoaning the hype and exaggeration that may have led people to have unreasonable expectations for embryonic stem cell research. From their paper (citations omitted):

The term “therapeutic misconception” was originally coined in 1982 to describe a fundamental confusion among research subjects and researchers alike between the goals of research (generalisable knowledge) and the goals of clinical care (improving the health of an individual patient)…

The therapeutic misconception is a particular concern for stem cell researchers for two reasons. First, like gene transfer (formerly misleadingly known as “gene therapy”), stem cell research is a frontier field. The potential for therapeutic misconception is especially large because of the promises already made, such as promotion of California’s Proposition 71 to fund stem cell research by slogans such as “save lives with stem cells”, and use of the term “therapeutic cloning” before any therapies exist.

Slogans such as “save lives with stem cells” boost the risk that people will overestimate the benefits and underestimate the risks of participating in stem cell research.

Well, no kidding! Funny, when Proposition 71’s boosters were spending $35 million promoting therapeutic misconception so thick you could cut it with a knife throughout California, I didn’t see Cho or Magnus–whose university is going to be a huge beneficiary of Proposition 71 money,–voicing strong objections to the propaganda that caused voters to swallow that particular white elephant whole.

Cho and Magnus continue:

Second, some stem cell research will depend upon participation of a class of individuals who are not patients and also not research subjects–egg donors–and for whom a different type of therapeutic misconception can exist. We have argued that this group be called research donors to distinguish them from research subjects.

Apparently, Cho and Magnus aren’t above shoveling a little misconception of their own. ESCR and SCNT (cloning) are non synonyms, even though the authors write as if the terms are indistinguishable. ESCR does not require eggs to conduct: It requires embryos from which to derive stem cells. SCNT does require eggs with which to (in theory) manufacture embryos, one potential use for which would be to derive stem cell lines.

Yes, women should be told, as the authors note, that by engaging in the potentially dangerous egg procurement process, they may not directly benefit from cloning or stem cell research. But, like the feminists involved in Hands Off Our Ovaries, I don’t believe researchers should be allowed to obtain eggs from women at all for this purpose. There is no reason to risk death, infertility, and illness so someone at Stanford can strike it rich by learning how to reliably create cloned human embryos.