Monday, January 15, 2007

Krauthammer, Stems Cells, and Movies About Mormons

How's that for a wide-ranging topic list?

Stem Cells: What To Do?

Charles Krauthammer's unique perspective on stem cell research has always intrigued me. He is a quadriplegic, a physician (Harvard medical School graduate), and pro-choice on abortion. One might think Krauthammer is a natural supporter of any and all stem cell research, not just the "safe" position President Bush adopted: Federal funding for adult stem cell research is OK, but funding for research on embryonic cells must be limited to the cell lines already in use.

I'll confess to being a little ambivalent about the subject of embryonic research. Professionally I come into contact with in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics, and I'm aware that there are thousands of embryos (if not more) simply sitting in storage that will never be used. They will eventually be destroyed. The idea of not "wasting" them and using them for research has a certain logic to it. And my own church has not taken a position on the issue.

Even so, Krauthammer makes a case I find convincing:
You don’t need religion to tremble at the thought of unrestricted embryo research. You simply have to have a healthy respect for the human capacity for doing evil in pursuit of the good. Once we have taken the position of many stem-cell advocates that embryos are discardable tissue with no more intrinsic value than a hangnail or an appendix, then all barriers are down. What is to prevent us from producing not just tissues and organs, but human-like organisms for preservation as a source of future body parts on demand?
That's always been the reasoning that tips me against embryonic stem cell research. I've also been repulsed by the over-the-top arguments so many were making in favor of embryonic research. In the 2004 presidential campaign John Kerry and John Edwards were promising that Kerry's election, and the increased research funding he would approve, would result in the blind seeing and the lame walking. All that hype about a research initiative that seems to be no more than a promising theory.

Now it turns out that, of all things, amniotic fluid is a rich source of what Krauthammer calls "stem cells with enormous potential:"
This is a revolutionary finding. Amniotic fluid surrounds the baby in the womb during pregnancy. It is routinely drawn out by needle in amniocentesis. The procedure carries little risk and is done for legitimate medical purposes that have nothing to do with stem cells. If it nonetheless yields a harvest of stem cells, we have just stumbled upon an endless supply.

And not just endless, but uncontroversial. No embryos are destroyed. The cells are just floating there, as if waiting for science to discover them.

Even better, amniotic fluid might prove to yield an ideal stem cell — not as primitive as embryonic stem cells and therefore less likely to grow uncontrollably into tumors, but also not as developed as adult stem cells and therefore more “pluripotential” in the kinds of tissues it can produce.
I haven't seen much MSM coverage of this discovery, perhaps because it doesn't square with the predominant worldview there.

Mormons and Documentaries

A four-hour PBS documentary is coming out this spring, called "The Mormons." It's a "presentation of both 'American Experience' and 'Frontline' — their first co-production." This prompts several thoughts.

First, why now? I wonder if the looming presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney has anything to do with increased interest in his church? (Disclosure: I am also a Mormon, so this is all of more than passing interest to me.)

Second, I hope they are as fair as this reporter thinks Helen Whitney, the documentary's producer, will be:
"The Mormons" will no doubt displease anyone who doesn't want to hear a negative word about the LDS Church. At the same time, it's going to anger those who don't want to hear anything good about it.
Ms. Whitney's history is that of a a credible, serious documentary maker. Good. I don't mind seeing my church's "warts" on TV, as long as that's not all we see.

(Note: There's a little more on this at Article VI Blog today.)


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