By Mary E. McClusky
Special to The CS&T
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” mutters the ordinary man posing as the great and powerful Oz in the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz.” This scene recently became reality on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” when Oprah’s star doctor and regular guest, Dr. Mehmet Oz, appeared alongside actor, Parkinson’s disease victim and embryonic stem cell research proponent, Michael J. Fox.
As Dr. Oz explained how Parkinson’s disease affects the brain, he broke from Fox’s normal talking points by embracing scientific integrity and said: “I think, Oprah, the stem cell debate is dead, and I’ll tell you why: The problem with embryonic stem cells is that embryonic stem cells come from embryos, like all of us are made from embryos, and those cells can become any cell in the body, but it’s very hard to control them and so they can become cancer.”
Oz then informed the stunned Fox and Winfrey that with recent advances in adult stem cell research, including the use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells (embryonic-like stem cells reverted from their adult state) Parkinson’s disease may be cured in the next decade.
Unfortunately, Dr. Oz is not entirely correct: cures can be expected but the debate over destroying embryos in medical research is not dead.
It should be, however, for many important reasons. After decades of research transplanting embryonic stem cells in animal models, no disease has been treated successfully. In contrast, evidence of over 73 diseases and conditions successfully treated with adult stem cells continues to build.
Yet many researchers continue to conduct, and more to advocate, destructive embryonic stem cell research, putting politics, research contracts and job security ahead of sound science. Scientists who pursue embryo-destructive research despite the noteworthy successes with adult stem cells violate the rights of their week-old human victims by taking their lives. They also fail in their responsibility to the millions awaiting effective treatments for a vast array of diseases and conditions.
Of course, even if embryonic stem cell research produced successful treatments, the Church could never advocate its use because it destroys a human person in his or her first week of life. Each of us began life as a human embryo, and we are, as the Declaration of Independence acknowledges, “created equal” and possess a God-given right to life. Every child deserves to be conceived and protected within the shelter of a husband and wife’s loving embrace.
The fictional Wizard of Oz lacked the courage to be honest with the Emerald Kingdom, but the real Dr. Oz courageously threw back the curtain on false promises. Let us pray that others in the medical profession and scientific community will have the heart to embrace intellectual honesty and advance cures that we can all live with.
For updates on advances in ethical stem cell research, visit the “Do No Harm” web site at www.stemcellresearch.org.
Mary McClusky is Special Projects Coordinator at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops’ pro-life activities, go to www.usccb.org/prolife
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