May 27, 1995. Commonwealth Park equestrian center, Culpeper, Virginia. Everything has been going well for Chris so far. He's placed fourth out of the twenty-seven riders in the dressage competition, and is now walking the course for the cross-country event. He has a slight concern about fences sixteen and seventeen, but he isn't particularly worried with fence three. The w' shaped fence, a mere three feet tall, is one of the more basic of the coursenothing he hasn't seen before. However, when he takes on the course, that basic jump will spell disaster.
Witnesses have since stated that Christopher Reeve's twelve-year-old thoroughbred gelding, "Buck," saw a rabbit and suddenly stopped midway over the jump. Reeve tried to hang on, ripping off the entire bridle, but fell to the ground, breaking his first and second vertebrae. This accident during a basic, uncomplicated jump paralyzed him for the rest of his life, and caused him to die years later of heart failure due to an antibiotic given to him for a bedsore.
Was there any possible way to cure Christopher Reeve's paralysis, to spare him and his family the pain of so many bedridden years? The answer is, quite simply, yes. Through stem cell research, millions of people suffering from a multitude of diseases could be spared the suffering and eventual slow, lingering death that nature's quirks doom them to.
Admittedly, not all diseases and injuries can be fixed via stem cell research, just as not all household problems can be solved with a roll of Duct tape sometimes you just need a big hammer to knock the dents out. But like anything else, a proper understanding of that Duct tapeor, in this case, stem cellsis needed. What are they? Where do they come from? What causes them to be so controversial that republicans would rather hug Al Gore than to ever admit that they could be put to good use?
Stem cells are essentially starter cells.' They have the ability to grow and repair damaged tissue, thus repairing damage done by diseases and injuries. Here are some diseases and injuries that could potentially be impacted by stem cell research:
Spinal cord injury (paralysis)
Neuroblastoma (cancer of various nerve tissues often occurring in children)
Childhood and adult leukemia
Bone marrow failure
Type 1 Diabetes
Heart muscle loss following heart attack
Liver disease including hepatitis
Lou Gehrig's disease
Spinal muscular atrophy (central nervous system)
Pulmonary disease (lung)
Renal disease (kidney)
Glial-based disorders (brain)
AIDS (in combination with other types of virus-suppressing therapy)
There are two types of stem cells; limited stem cells, and unlimited stem cells. Limited stem cells form from somatic cells, or body cells, and are only found in a few special organs. Limited stem cells have been used successfully in medical field in procedures such as bone marrow transplants; however these cells can only repair tissues from the organ they came from. The other variety of stem cells, unlimited stem cells, are "unlimited" in that they can produce and repair tissue of any kind that has been damaged. However, unlimited stem cells are embryonic, or found in an embryo, and there is a lot of controversy over the harvesting of these embryonic stem cells.
Many people believe that harvesting stem cells is an utterly immoral act, equal to murdering babies in cold blood. But before we jump to any conclusions about the assumed amorality of the practice, let us take a closer look at just what harvesting' stem cells really entails. Currently, the cells used are some of the 7,500 spare,' or unused and undeveloped, embryos from fertility clinics that otherwise would be thrown out. Some people claim that these embryos deserve the same dignity given to a fully developed human begin, and should not be submit to stem cell research. Yet isn't possibly healing a person dying of a terminal disease, and saving them and their family all the mental anguish associated with theses diseases and injuries dignified'?
The most notorious bill regarding stem cell research is the H.R. 810 bill, otherwise known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. This bill was a recent Congressional proposal that suggested increasing federal funding of stem cell research to incorporate funding for a scientific investigation in which the properties of spare' embryos would be studied. The bill was passed in both the House and the Senate, but was vetoed by our highly unintelligent President Bush, in August of 2006. "H.R. 3," another bill with basically the same conditions, was passed by Congress on January 11, 2007 and will be up for a vote in the Senate sometime in the future.
"What can I do to help?" you may be asking, "A bill has already been passed, and vetoed, and another bills on its way, so what else is there to do?" Well, you can stay informed, and inform others. Websites like www.tellmeaboutstemcells.org can keep you updated, and provide links to other important websites.
Imagine a world where people like Christopher Reeves could have walked again, where cancer victims could heal and regenerate, where the mumblings and shaking of Parkinson's could be fixed. It's not that far off, if stem cell research is aided with federal funding.