Helping the Blind to See

The religious right in recent years has repeatedly argued that embryonic stem cell research isn’t sound science and has been a waste of time and money. Last week, for example, the Family Research Council once again argued that embryonic stem cell research “has not successfully treated a single person for any disease.” In testimony before Congress less than two years ago, David Barton of the Texas-based group WallBuilders also argued that such research hadn’t led to any cures. Just last month the Christian Coalition of America claimed that there have been “zero successes in human embryonic stem cell research.” Of course, politicians and far-right pressure groups in this country have put numerous obstacles in the way of this promising medical research.

Now comes important news from Britain:

British scientists have developed the world’s first stem cell therapy to cure the most common cause of blindness. Surgeons predict it will become a routine, one-hour procedure that will be generally available in six or seven years’ time. The treatment involves replacing a layer of degenerated cells with new ones created from embryonic stem cells.

This development offers new hope to millions of people who suffer from age-related macular degeneration.

Professor Peng Khaw, director of the Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, added: “This shows that stem cell therapy is coming of age. It offers great hope for many sufferers around the world who cannot be treated with conventional treatment.” He added: “All my patients say to me is, ‘When will this stem cell treatment be ready? I want it now’.”

On a related note, the Texas House passed its version of the state budget early Saturday (April 18) morning. The House budget does not include the Senate’s proposed ban on public funding for embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. (That ban could also prevent even privately funded ESC research at publicly funded facilities.) A House-Senate conference committee will now hammer out a compromise budget. Opponents of ESC research will likely work to put the funding ban in the final state budget.

19 thoughts on “Helping the Blind to See

  1. Cue outright denialism in 4….3….2….

    I hope this approach makes it through clinical trials.

  2. Several Comments:

    1) If there have been no breakthroughs in stem cell research in this country, you can pretty much bet it was because the fundies stopped those advances from happening. Jesus healed the blind—but 21 st century people who claim to be his followers made sure the blind did not get healed. It took a country with an official state church (Church of England) to do the stem cell research that will heal the blind.

    2) What kind of idiot would call David Barton to testify before Congress on stem cell research? Why not ask Paris Hilton to testify before Congress about the viability of the nation’s neutron science research programs?

    3) Now, I have a poll question. If you were a human embryo and you knew for certain that you were never going to be implanted in a uterus, how many of you would say, “No, I don’t want to help a blind person, just throw me in the trash can”?

  3. Charles,

    Also, I have no doubt that these fundamentalists would push to be the first in line for stem cell-based therapy if they found out they were losing their sight.

  4. Charles, how about, “implant me into an infertile woman so I can live.” Let’s add that to your poll. Why do you force people to choose between death and death in your poll. Life is not an option? Or is it just an option that would mess up your desired poll results?

  5. Jeff, how many infertile women other than the one that was undergoing the in-vitro procedure where these thirty blastulae were generated are ready to have one implanted? And how, perfectly seriously, do you differentiate between “death” for a 64-cell embryo and “death” for an unfertilized ovum? That latter happens what, three million times a month, maybe, in Texas alone? The former maybe many thousands of times a month, due to perfectly natural failure to implant in uterine walls? How is one more “death” than the other?

    And read what Charles wrote, anyway: “and you knew for certain….”

  6. Hey Jeff007…

    I am sure Charles wouldn’t have a problem with that. Although he was pointing out a simple fact you don’t understand. Embryonic stem cell research is done with the embryos that were already going to be thrown into the trash. All scientists are trying to do is use the destruction of the embryo to benefit from it as opposed to simply throwing it away. That is why those were the choices.

    Pretty please, tell me you didn’t understand that explanation.

  7. Jeff. Do you feel as if you are endanger of being aborted?

    I ask that question because of an observation that was made about 20 years ago by a born-again Christian who studies the Religious Right. After considerable thought about why so many fellow Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are against abortion, he came to the conclusion that it was actually a matter that goes much deeper than the usual pro-life platform arguments.

    He believes that Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals (deep within their psychological selves) live in a world that they perceive of as being alien, foreign, and totally hostile to who they are and what they believe. They feel as if they are a stranger in a strange land of savages—and that the savages are so vicious and so dangerous that the fundies are themselves in constant danger of being suddenly and personally aborted by one of the savages. Therefore, they feel so much deep empathy for the embryo because they see the embryo as a version of THEMSELVES. Do you have any comments on that idea Jeff?

  8. Jeff.

    You might be interested in commenting on this one as well. Here is a quote from a favorite book of mine, which was written by a born-again Christian who is actually an occasional editor for “Christianity Today” magazine. If you would like to read it, the author is Dr. Randall Balmer at Barnard College (Columbia University). The book is entitled: “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.” Here is a quote from Randy’s book:

    “[Christian] reconstructionists believe that capital punishment, for instance, should be imposed for everything from sodomy to incorrigibility in children. [Rousas] Rushdoony, who was active in the arch conservative John Birch Society, published the “bible” of Reconstructionism in 1973, a nine-hundred page volume entitled “The Institutes of Biblical Law,” and his writings are laced with racism and anti-Semitism. Reconstructionists especially detest the notion of toleration. Gary North, who was Rushdoony’s estranged son-in-law and who remains one of the movement’s most militant spokesmen, has insisted that “the perfect love of God necessarily involves the perfect hatred of God’s enemies.” Rushdoony himself openly resented the fact that “…in the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions.”

    Compare and contrast this with the following:

    “But I say unto you, Love your ENEMIES, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matthew 5: 44)

    “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves [like Rushdoony and North]that they were righteous, and despised others:

    10Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

    11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men [are], extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

    12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

    13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

    14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather] than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18: 10-14)

  9. Jeff:

    Whenever anyone sees Tony Perkins show up on CCN to argue some Religious Right position, just invoke the following verse as the theme of whatever he is saying.

    “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men [are], extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”

  10. I apologize. My passion for the protection of life gets me riled up sometimes. My comment was unnecessarily brusque. In your poll with the two options, yes, I would have to choose to help someone. I would prefer that the embryos had not been created in the first place. It irritates me to no end that we are playing games with the seeds of human life for the sake of the convenience couples (and others) wanting to have children when there are so many living children who need homes. Then we have these “extra” human lives that we don’t want to just throw away so let’s use them in science experiments. It’s creepy, immoral and it devalues human life.

    Coragyps: one is death by natural process, the other is caused by a deliberate act of throwing away a potential human life. To me it’s an important distinction. Personally I don’t agree with the whole field of in-vitro fertilization. I’d rather see adoptions occur.

    1) Nope. I don’t fear being aborted. I think whoever you’re quoting is way off base on his analysis. It’s about valuing life, not alienation.
    2)I would agree more with your Biblical quotes than the quotes of Gary North.
    3)I’m not familiar with Tony Perkins so I can’t really comment on his being pharisaical or not. If he is, he’s not the first and won’t be the last. We’re all imperfect.

  11. “We’re all imperfect.”

    Jeff. You just stepped inside the pearly gates—-congratulations.

  12. What the fundamentalist opponents of embryonic stem-cell research do not seem to understend is that the term for person in the Hebrew scriptures (Christian Old Testament) is “nefesh”, which means something that breathes. In other words, the Bible recognizes human personhood as beginning at birth, not at fertilization or at the embryonic stage. This view corresponds with that of modern neuroscience, which is that the functions of personhood (consciousness and will) are not possible until a certain level of cerebral cortex development has occurred, some time after 28 to 32 weeks of gestation. Thus embryonic sten-cell research and virtually all abortions do not affect human persons. Opposition to embryonic stem-cell research is based almost entirely on the fundamentalist insistence on patriarchy, that is, male dominance.

  13. You are right about that Ed. I once read an article where a person who was an expert on Jewish customs, including ancient ones, made the same point. In the Old Testament law, this probably explains why causing physical harm to a fetus by beating its mother to death is not considered to be murder per the fetus—just mom—or something like that. I would have to go look it up.

    However, I would not evaluate that as enthusiasm for abortion on my part. If someone views it as a birth control method, it is one %$#@* stupid way of doing it when much better and safer means are available. It reminds me of that old joke about how do 13 _______ screw in a lightbulb. One guy holds the bulb and 12 guys turn the house.

  14. In regard to the Hebrew, “nefesh,” that’s true. I’m not a Hebraist, but ‘nefesh’ means: ‘soul.’ I think the connection between soul and breath (or that which breathes) comes from where it says in Genesis that God “breathed life” into the man; thus, making the connection between life and respiration. There may be additional verses that make that connection.

    For those who consider human embryos as being fully human beings and are bothered by their destruction, I present this scenario: Consider a young child alone in a lab wherein there is a tray containing the vials of 20 human embryos. The proverbial fire breaks out, and you have time to save only one: the child vs the 20 embryos. For those who consider embryos as full human beings, the choice is simple: you forfeit the life of one human being for the sake of 20 human beings.

    Ask that question of a fundamentalist or evangelical (not sure of the difference), and watch them dance around it like Mr. Bojangles. Interesting that they should have such a difficult time making a choice that should be so obvious and simple.

  15. There might have been a lot less to argue about these days had the early stage group of cells that are used as the source of stem cells not been improperly called an “embryo”. There are many concepts of when life begins. Some probably even see it the destruction of life when unfertilized ova are discarded each month.

  16. Actually, I asked a version of that same question to a pro-life obstetric nurse who was a guest on a talk radio program about 20 years ago. They have a standard answer to get around that question: “We would try equally hard to save the child and the 20 embryos.” However, if a fire were to actually break out under those said circumstance, I would bet my last $100 bill that those embryos would be history.

  17. Charles, you’re right, they’re good at dancing around questions, like politicians. They don’t have the guts to give an honest answer. Larry is among them, as was ScienceMinded.

  18. The goal of this research is not to destroy human life, but to keep it alive and make it multiply. It will be used to grow the human life, which was destined for the biowaste bin, into cells that are useful and healing. Dead human cells are useless in these circumstances.

  19. “Some probably even see it the destruction of life when unfertilized ova are discarded each month.”

    Yes, this statement is probably true in which case God Itself is the ultimate Destroyer.

    And note that I wrote: “young child,” meaning the child would need to be carried. You need two hands to carry a child adquately in which case you’d have no hands left to carry a tray of 20 human beings. For the embryos-are-full-human-beings crowd, they would make the logical choice to sacrifice the life of one person for the sake of 20 persons.

    I don’t get the hypocrisy of this attitude. If embryos are full human beings, then why aren’t their advocates arguing against discarding them?

    In fact, let’s take their argument to its ultimate conclusion: They should be forcing women to have all of their embryos implanted in them. After all, it could be considered cruel to allow these unwanted embryos to remain in their state of suspended animation indefinitely instead of being forcibly implanted into a woman so that they can be born and achieve their ultimate potential.