October 19, 2004

Stem Cells: Nerves of Steel

Quadriplegic actor Christopher Reeve, paralyzed since a horse-racing accident in May 1995, died Oct. 10 of complications relating to his condition. We have lost one of the finest and most underrated talents of our time, one who showed us that the impossible can become the possible.

The totality of Reeve’s injury hit home for me just days after it happened, when my driver’s education class watched a training video in which he starred. Chris gave us a friendly intro, hopped into a convertible and offered driving tips. Our teacher stopped the tape several times because our paralysis chatter was overriding the lesson. It felt surreal watching the man give us tips on how to drive, knowing that he could no longer grip the wheel.

In the ensuing nine years, Reeve spoke out, wrote two outstanding books and worked tirelessly for his newfound cause. He became a high-profile example for those recovering from catastrophic illnesses. Always an activist, one of Reeve’s most personal political issues later in life involved stem-cell research, a field that offered his greatest hope for walking once again.

Reeve’s death marks the second high-profile death this year (after Ronald Reagan) from maladies related to causes that stem cells promise to treat. What are stem cells? They are the cells that determine the growth and development of human tissue. Once fashioned into a “line” (an infinitely reproducing cluster of cells), stem cells can theoretically be used to regenerate a severed spinal cord or an eroded brain stem. Current studies are underway to determine stem cells’ role in curing such maladies as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases, as well as paralysis.

Depending on whom you ask, stem-cell research is either mankind’s best hope or a one-way express rocket to Hell. The stem-cell extraction process, to most people, goes like this: scientists grow fetuses in a secret lab at UC-Berkeley, assisted by a harem of hippie sluts. Babies are then extracted feet-first from the womb and positioned to allow for maximum wailing while a doctor takes a large kitchen knife and slices the fetus like an orange. After exchanging high fives, the doctors slip the remains into a meat grinder. And voila!

Um, no. It’s true that the most effective stem-cell lines are derived from freshly fertilized human embryos; however, only embryos donated explicitly for this purpose are ever used. No actual babies (or fetuses) are ever in danger. Moreover, some stem cells can also originate from live people and even umbilical cords. Still, the Bush administration is no fan of such research, claiming that it violates godly standards. But if Superman and the Gipper dying so close together isn’t a divine sign, then what is?

Not that the theological aspect of it matters anyway. If U.S. law allowed religions to dictate medical practices, then we wouldn’t have hospitals (or, in some cases, doctors). Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are against blood transfusions because they believe that blood is part of one’s soul. Yet blood banks continue to pulse unabated, as does the door-knocking of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. When scientific advances that could save lives are on the line, doesn’t it make sense to support life?

In any case, stem-cell researchers have a long trial ahead of them. Any obstacles that lie ahead should involve medical applications, not the religious right. Nothing would have thrilled me more than to see Christopher Reeve and Ronald Reagan chatting on a morning jog. But whether or not stem-cell research could have saved them in time, the fact remains that the potential remains out there for the next generation of the afflicted. You might even say it’s our mission to tap this amazing resource.


Blogger Scott B said...

Hi Ian

just had a quick read here coz you were giving Carl P the gun totting right-winger some good shit back there.

Anyway I have to mention something weird. I didnt quite get it myself and didnt ask at the time for fear of offending. But I often go to a club here in UK run by a group called 'the outsiders' they are essentially people helping others born with incurable conditions like paraplegics, thalidamide, general deformities, dwarfs and the like.
It isnt just for them thats why I go, damn good club and they do cabaret. anyway getting to the point...during the cabaret the compere came on, a guy with Thalidamide, good talker, an actor and a drummer too! anyway he was cracking jokes with a bit of venom and went into one about Chris Reeve. They were really pissed off with Christopher Reeve for some reason. The reason as far as I could tell was something about the way he was righteously fighting for 'cures' and treating himself as someone who was unlucky and could 'heal' apparently he had ostracised himself from the British naturally 'deformed' community. I mean they were ripping him down properly.
I didnt quite get it myself.

anyway yea....god rest his soul but he pissed those guys off somehow. Do you understand that? I have been wondering about it ever since.

I guess it is because these guys are all stuck with their 'illnesses' and have to live with it forever. As such they fight for people to accept them not as 'ill' but as an equal not as an 'unfortunate' but an equal, not as 'freaks' but equals trea them as another human being, not a weirdo or deformity or somethign too feel sorry for and ingore or thorw money at.

and Chris Reeve publicly really fed the idea that he was a freak and people should feel sorry for him

so....I think we have to be careful how we view this kind of thing because you can really insult some people who have spent their entire life being looked down upon, felt sorry for and treated like freaks.

We can insult people unknowingly sometimes by thinking we are doing good. Chris did that and probably died never even knowing it.

its an interesting view and takes quite a bit of mental adjustment to realise our mistake.


2:05 AM  

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