The Stem-cell Sell

"Ladies and Gentlemen: Today Only: The Elixir of Life! We have in these nearly invisible, no-bigger-than-the-period-at-the-end-of-this-sentence embryos the secret to long life and perfect health. These tiny cells—they call ’em blastocysts back in the lab—will cure the aches and pains, the ills of humankind. Neurologically degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, gone like smallpox! Autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, cured on diagnosis! The end of cancer! The end of diabetes as we know it! And, Ladies and Gentlemen, these cells, as miniscule as they appear today, will someday provide replacement parts for every nook and cranny of the human body, from hearts to hamstrings.

"You ask how anything so small could provide us with the gift of virtual immortality? Ladies and Gentlemen, give us your dollars and we will give you the answer."

Instructive, isn’t it, how much scientists clamoring for federal funds sound like that quintessential American huckster, the snake-oil salesman?

We have heard this spiel before. In 1992, Congress held hearings on transplanting fetal brain cells, much like the hearings we saw in mid-July on embryonic stem cells. Suffering humanity, especially children, are exhibited to move the hearts of congressmen who wouldn’t dare say "no" to Little Nell. Back in ’92, proponents argued that fetal brain cells...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.