The Stem Cell Debate, Politics and Ethics

By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh

The Perspective

August 28, 2001

Perhaps a stem cell tissue, one of the 60 lines President George W. Bush spoke about during his nation-wide broadcast days ago could have spared him few more years to live; maybe not. However, dad died many years ago after scientists in the United States began discussing the use of stem cell tissues to cure diseases like diabetes, alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries and other diseases that afflict mankind.

That innovative discovery is sure to bring about medical wonders, let alone ease the pain and suffering of many families and those affected worldwide. Hopefully, the Liberian people who are victims of many things, including medical neglects will benefit once treatment is available, or once
those afflicted can afford to pay for the cost.

Even though the stem cell discovery is still in its infancy, the question that comes to mind is whether the tissues that are to be manipulated from those discarded embryos could be manufactured in later years and packaged in the forms of prescription drugs (just as the aids drugs are), and dispensed by doctors and pharmacies worldwide. Or, once treatment is available, will the sick, the disabled and those with life-threatening illnesses only have to travel to, let say the United States for treatment?

But with Liberia's strong religious heritage, her ties to the United States, and America's abilities to strangulate countries that refused to go along with its so-called moral codes as it relates to family planning and abortion rights, one wonders whether the stem cell debate in the United States could spill over into Liberia, and have a negative bearing on the availability of such treatment there by prohibiting humanitarian medical doctors, medical associations and their Liberian counterparts to begin such procedures on patients there.

And if it does, it certainly will be disastrous to the people of that country for the mere fact that the number one killer of most Liberians other than civil wars and high blood pressure is diabetes. That particular disease have wrecked havoc on the Liberian population at an increasing number at home
and abroad. There are elderly Liberians out there who are also afflicted by the dreaded Alzheimer's disease.

Not since the days of Jonas Salk and the discovery of the polio vaccine many years ago has there been such optimism on the part of those with spinal cord injuries who believed that they will finally be able to walk one day. The diabetics also believe that they too will be relieved from the
inconveniences of having to administer to themselves daily or hourly insulin shots to control their sugar levels. Relatives of elderly Alzheimer's patients also believe and hope that their loved ones will be able to get their memories back, enjoy life and be what they once were before they got
struck by that illness.

But that hope to cure diseases from stem cell tissues has been embroiled in controversies between the church, state, pro and anti-abortion right activists who believed one way or the other that life begins at conception, and that those embryos that would have been discarded in the first place are fetuses, and shouldn't be used for medical purposes. Such, they believed is morally and ethically wrong.

President George Bush, bowing to pressure from the right of the Republican party agreed to allow the federal government to fund a limited quantity of 60 lines of stem cell tissues, which actually is not sitting well with many in the medical profession, patients and special interest groups who
eventually will be affected by such decision.

By playing it safe and being in the middle of the stem cell debate, Mr. Bush played his political cards right by caving in to the radical right of the republican party by cleverly maneuvering his way of an issue that would have embarrassed his young administration.

While the stem cell debate may seem to be a fight against abortion, it is also a fight against medical innovations, and plays well to another group of the president's core supporters; the anti-abortion foes who sincerely believes that Mr. Bush did listened to their concerns by not providing unlimited amount of those tissues for medical research.

In as much it is unethical and morally wrong as some would believe to fund stem cell research which emanates from aborted and discarded embryonic tissues that will be needed to cure debilitating diseases, it certainly is unethical and morally wrong to deny any medical research, knowing that such research would end the pain and suffering of countless human beings worldwide.

Diseases such as diabetes, spinal cord injuries, high blood pressure, cancer and many more are oblivious to race, gender, nationalities, political affiliations and ideologies. To compromise medical research that have the potential of bringing cure and relief to millions for the sake of ideology
can have unbearable consequences. Not only Americans, but disease-plagued humanity everywhere will continue to suffer the consequences of not proceeding with this revolutionary medical innovation.

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