It's campaign season, which means there is plenty of mud being tossed back and forth between candidates, especially on campaign commercials. These commercials are notorious for taking complex political debates and boiling them down into misleading sound bites. This "dumbing down" of political debate is always unfortunate, but it becomes tragic when sound bites endanger the lives of vulnerable human beings.
Case in point: a couple of candidates have released campaign commercials featuring Michael J. Fox. Mr. Fox, who starred in the Back to the Future movies, is suffering from Parkinson's disease, and after seeing him on TV, every decent American would sympathize with his struggle. Even though it is natural to be sympathetic, we must still rationally consider the content of his message. Mr. Fox asks us to support the use of "life-saving stem cells" in medical research. He also leaves the impression that some people are against using "life-saving stem cells". The problem is that Fox does not differentiate between the use of therapies utilizing adult stem cells, the harvesting of which poses no ethical problems, and therapies involving embryonic stem cells, the harvesting of which results in profound ethical problems.
As we have pointed out in the past, embryonic stem cell "research" is ethically indefensible. Most cells in our bodies settle into a particular "identity." If they are skin cells, for example, their "parents" were skin cells, and their "children" will be skin cells. Stem cells, on the other hand, have the ability to be transformed into more than one kind of cell. For example, a single stem cell is capable of becoming a white blood cell, a neuron cell, or a cardiac muscle cell. Stem cells have important therapeutic value because, by manipulating these stem cells, scientists can potentially find cures for many diseases.
Parkinson's is an example of a disease that may one day be cured with stem cells. It results from a brain malfunction that prevents neurons from producing enough of a chemical called dopamine. If stem cells could be manipulated to become neurons, then perhaps these new, healthy neurons could start producing dopamine, and Parkinson's disease would be cured.