As a Ph.D. biochemist and a native Wisconsinite, I can’t keep silent. The science of stem cell research is again in the news due to a pair of identical bills introduced in the state Assembly and Senate. If you don’t live in Wisconsin, you may be wondering why you should care. Here’s the thing. As these things go in one state, they often set precedent for similar legislation in others.
First, the good news. These bills (Assembly Bill 214 and Senate Bill 172) would ban the research use of cells derived from fetal tissue in Wisconsin. This would extend current Federal law, which bans the sale of the tissue of an aborted baby for research use. The proposed state law would cover every individual part of an aborted baby, even cells. This would effectively ban all forms of experimentation using morally objectionable embryonic stem cells in Wisconsin. Lots of claims are made about potential cures for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, various forms of cancer, spinal cord injuries, etc. However, none of this is grounded in reality. Other types of stem cells, such as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells have been demonstrated to be medically superior with the bonus of no nagging moral side effects. As such, it would be a genuine scientific and moral victory to see these bills passed in Wisconsin and serve as a catalyst for similar legislation in other states. Rather than thwarting medical and scientific progress as some would assert, such legislation would encourage research overall by signaling to researchers that lawmakers actually take the results of their hard work seriously enough to divert funding from unproductive streams to productive ones.
Now the bad news. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is weighing in against these bills. An opinion written by the Journal-Sentinel editorial board this past Monday essentially presented an “ends justify the means” view of the issues. The editorial discussed the substance of the bills largely with respect to potential economic and research impact, never mind the moral implications. That said, the economic and scientific ramifications of the passage of such legislation are genuine issues, and the editorial board has a right, like it or not, to weigh in on them. At least they published a letter to the editor from Pro-Life Wisconsin communications director Virginia Zignego yesterday. However, there’s more.
Here’s the part that is flat-out shameful. The editorial inaccurately portrays the science of stem cell research. The editorial asserts that:
- Fetal (embryonic) tissue can be used to create non-embryonic adult stem cells;
- Skin cells can be used to create embryonic stem cells.
Such work would be the craft of magicians. Embryonic stem cells always come from embryos, period. Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, however, can be produced from skin cells or other somatic cells. The editorial simply gets this factually wrong, which not only undermines every one of the editorial’s arguments but also makes it blatantly duplicitous. Such glaring inaccuracies mandate a clarification from the JS Editorial Board, if not an outright retraction. Lest you think this is merely an innocent factual oversight, think again. One year ago, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
wished gushed a happy 75th birthday to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, extoling all the supposed good they do in a laughably-skewed piece that couldn’t have been better PR for the nation’s foremost abortion provider had they paid for it.
Now for the take-home message. Please don’t be fooled; all stem cell research is not the same! Simply, the discipline of stem cell research is far broader than just the segment using embryo-derived stem cells. Not only are iPS cells a morally acceptable alternative to embryonic stem cells, they have been demonstrated in research to be medically superior. The bill in question would do nothing to thwart “adult” iPS cell research. If you live in Wisconsin or have any connections there, do whatever you can to get behind this. Contact you state senators and representatives and encourage them to vote for this. If they’re opposed, they need to be educated; if they’re in favor, they need to hear from you to be emboldened in the courage of their convictions.
One last small “do” item. Please go to the Journal-Sentinel editorial and vote in the poll. At least, please help send a message to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that we’re not going to tolerate their pro-abortion propaganda.