Sunday Morning Talk Shows and Stem Cells

The United States’ financial future hangs in the balance. With a now $700 billion bail-out of our country’s largest financial institutions, most of the Sunday morning talk centers on the crisis and specifically what it means for American tax payers.

Scott asked the $64 million question the other day, back when it was a measly $85 million we were discussing when he asked why the far right spend inordinate amounts of time and energy blocking just a slice of that for critical family planning funds and other fundamental health care for Americans? 

George Bush is quoted on Meet the Press this morning discussing the "precarious nature of today’s financial markets…and their vital importance to the daily lives of the American people." He says that, "intervention is not only warranted it is essential."

The question then becomes even more relevant today as we discuss how all of us – and don’t forget our children and grandchildren who will be paying for this certainly until they’re old and grey – are held hostage to a rescue mission costing close to $1 trillion while we cannot seem to agree that a health care system in this nation that covers all Americans, from the most vulnerable and needy, is worthy of that same sort of rescue? Don’t forget, President George W. Bush has seen fit to withold $34 million for seven years now, totalling $235 million – a drop in the money bucket! – for UNFPA programs that  provide family planning and reproductive healthcare programs globally to women and families desperate for a way to have a sense of control over their health and lives. 

Sunday Morning Talk: Softly Fanning the Flames of the Culture War

In other news, Chris Matthews had a lively discussion with Michele Norris of NPR, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, and John Heileman of New York Magazine about, among other things, John McCain’s "comeback" and his choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate. 

Andrea Mitchell had some fascinating things to say, in particular about how McCain and Palin work as a team by fanning the culture wars just enough to engage and ensure successful relationships with the  fundamentalists; but not too much thereby keeping those suburban moms and more middle of the road Republican supporters close by:

Ms. Mitchell: I think there is a way to do that. You know, it requires being pretty adept, but if you notice in Palin’s speech [at the convention], she didn’t get into any of the specifics on abortion or any of the other issues that would have offended those suburban moms…Instead she was the poster child for inclusiveness, for being exactly like them.

Later on in the program, Mitchell talks about Palin’s appeal as the "she represents me" candidate. To explain, Matthews and Mitchell discuss how the simple act of holding up her baby, Trig, who has Down’s Syndrome, sends the signal she wants to send that she is "against abortion." 

I agree that, politically and symbolically, the McCain and Palin campaign’s decision to highlight Trig in the convention and beyond sends a message to those who oppose abortion. What I would interject here, however, is a vehement reminder that those of us who support women’s legal access to abortion and women and families’ ability to make private and personal decisions about their lives and health without government interference do not disagree with Palin’s decision, or any woman’s decision, to bring a child with developmental or other disabilities into the world. What those who support personal decision making and legal abortion support is the ability for all women to have the opportunity to make these same decisions about their bodies, their lives and their health as Palin has had the opportunity to do. 

Stem Cells Go To Washington

In Washington state (my home), we’re looking at a gubernatorial election. Incumbent Governor Christine Gregoire (Democrat) is running against Dino Rossi, a Republican who lost to Gregoire in the last election. 

In the news this week is a television ad Gregoire is running highlighting her support for stem cell research (including embryonic stem cells) and Rossi’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research. The ad centers on a mother whose child has juvenile diabetes and says that stem cell research gives her hope and angrily says: "So I get upset when a politician like Dino Rossi says he’s against stem cell research. Who is he to put his personal beliefs ahead of my child’s health?"

The Seattle Times reports that the ads are not accurate because: 

The ad makes it sound like Rossi opposes all stem-cell research. His campaign said that’s not true, noting that Rossi does support research using adult stem cells. But he opposes research using embryonic stem cells, which are collected from embryos that are destroyed in the process.

That quote begs to be dissected.

What the Rossi campaign fails to mention is that adult stem cell research has not been shown to yield anything close to the same potential for break-throughs on a range of medical conditions. In fact, thus far, the adult stem cell research has been shown to potentially cause cancer. 

In Scientific American, stem cell biologist Roberta Lanza, reiterated the danger and lack of viability of using adult stem cells saying: "I don’t think the FDA would allow us to use these virally-modified cells."

Secondly, saying that embryonic stem cells are "collected from embryos that are destroyed in the process" sounds dramatic but it’s not quite true. These are, as Amanda writes, "gathered from left-over embryos created during the in-vitro fertilization process that helps infertile couples conceive."

So, unless Rossi and others who are anti-embryonic stem cell research, would like to outlaw in-vitro fertilization, there will always be leftover embryos. With close to 150 million orphans in this country already, it’s hard for me to imagine that, even with Rossi’s anti-choice positions, he would call for all of these embryos to be adopted? What then would he propose for the embryonic stem cells? Instead of using them to find cures for diseases that all Americans have family members afflicted with, he would rather destroy them for no purpose whatsover? 

Finally, even John McCain supports embryonic stem cell research. It’s not unfair, or even inaccurate, for Gregoire’s campaign to call out opponent Dino Rossi for his lack of support for the only viable source of stem cell research at this point. 

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    I received this email from two highly-respected women, one in women’s health and the other in the politics and social justice implications of biotechnology. I’m thrilled to be corrected by the best! Judy Norsigian is Executive Director of Our Bodies Ourselves and co-author of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" and Marcy Darnovsky is the Associate Executive Director for Center for Genetics and Society. The letter classifies some of what I addressed about adult stem cell research vs. embryonic stem cell research as misleading and provides facinating information on developments in these areas so please read on:



    We share your dismay
    about the way the McCain-Palin ticket is fanning the flames of the culture wars,
    and appreciate your reminder that Palin’s decision to have a child with Down
    syndrome is not a reason for pro-choice people to criticize her – in fact, just
    the opposite.

    We also agree with
    your criticism of the Rossi campaign for opposing embryonic stem cell research,
    but want to take issue with a few things in your post. When you talk about adult
    stem cells, you seem to be alluding not to the adult stem cells that are
    isolated from bone marrow and various other body tissues, but to the recently
    discovered process of “reprogramming” ordinary body cells into stem cells.

    There’s been huge
    progress in cell reprogramming in less than a year, and most in the field agree
    that it’s very promising. It’s misleading to say that “adult stem cell research
    has not been shown to yield anything close to the same potential for
    break-throughs on a range of medical conditions.” Both cell reprogramming and
    stem cell research using “leftover” IVF embryos have potential; both present
    medical and ethical risks; both need to be pursued and carefully

    The stem cell
    controversy has revolved mostly around the status of human embryos, but those
    like us who support embryo research have a number of other issues to consider,
    especially regarding the tiny subset of embryonic stem cell research that uses
    cloning techniques. One big one: women’s health.

    The concern about
    cloning-based stem cell research (also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer or
    SCNT) is its requirement for very large numbers of women’s eggs. As you probably
    know, retrieving those eggs carries significant risks.
    Although these risks are similar
    to the risks for egg extraction techniques in the IVF context – and thus most people believe that the
    techniques must be well-studied and reasonable – that is not true. (A paper by
    the Reproductive Health Technologies Project outlines some of the important
    unknowns, especially the risks of the GnRH agonist Lupron that is so commonly
    used. Though some of the most responsible researchers instead use Antagon, an
    antagonist that has FDA approval for this use – unlike Lupron – this still begs
    the question about long-term health effects that women have a right to know

    SCNT is still
    supported by many Democrats and progressives, in spite of the risks of egg
    retrieval, and the fact that this approach remains very speculative. No stem
    cells have ever been produced with SCNT, though it’s common to read misleading
    accounts that suggest otherwise. Especially now that cell reprogramming offers
    the likelihood of producing disease-specific and patient-specific stem cells, we
    question whether putting women at risk for SCNT is justifiable.

    Marcy Darnovsky and Judy