UNMC Undermines Public Trust
by Greg Schleppenbach
by Greg Schleppenbach
Last week I attended a “Mini-Med School” on stem cells conducted by officials from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The program, which was broadcast to 20 sites around the state, featured two presentations and a panel of UNMC officials answering questions designed to “separate fact from fiction” about stem cells and cloning.
From the extensive (and expensive) advertising of the event to the stacked deck of UNMC officials answering screened questions, this event was an “in-your-face” affront to the moral sensibilities of a significant percentage, if not majority, of Nebraskans who believe that human beings at the embryonic stage deserve the same protection as human beings at other stages of life.
The first presentation provided a straightforward and neutral primer explaining the different types of stem cells. The second presentation, however, under the pretense of “separating fact from fiction”, presented a view that clearly favored embryonic stem cells over adult stem cells.
For example, the presentation basically dismissed any suggestion that adult stem cells (ASCs) could be as promising as embryonic stem cells (ESCs) in treating disease. Specifically, regarding whether ASCs could be as capable as ESCs in producing most of the body’s cells, the presenter said such a notion “may be more aggressive business” [by profit-seeking companies] than good science & medicine” thus dismissing substantial published evidence to the contrary (see http://www.stemcellresearch.org/facts/ASCpluripotency.pdf).
The presentation also badly misled listeners about public opinion on embryonic stem cell research citing several biased polls that conveniently omit the fact that such research involves destroying human embryos. In what I believe was a calculated attempt to poke the Catholic Church in the eye, the only religious-oriented poll cited was an incredibly biased “Catholic Voter Poll” showing 72 percent support for embryonic stem cell research. Who sponsored the poll? Catholics for a Free Choice, a pro-abortion and decidedly anti-Catholic organization.
During the question and answer segment, one of the panelists dismissed as “a bunch of baloney” the data showing that human patients have benefited from adult stem cell treatments for 72 different diseases while no human patient has benefited (to date) from embryonic stem cells. The panelist attempted to discredit the source of the information (Do No Harm Coalition and Dr. David Prentice) and its citations (with no rebuttal, of course).
Dr. Prentice has responded to this criticism (http://www.stemcellresearch.org/facts/ScienceLetter.pdf) by pointing out that he cites peer reviewed studies (the gold standard for credibility) documenting some level of patient benefit from adult stem cell treatments in 72 different diseases.
Worst of all, the presentation gave only superficial and slanted attention to the central point of contention with embryonic stem cell research: is the human embryo a human subject deserving of moral and legal status/protection? The presentation’s “take home” message was “good people with sincere beliefs do not agree on the use of embryonic stem cells” and although the “ethical issues surrounding [embryonic stem cells] are complex [they are] manageable.”
Manageable? What in the world does that mean? I fear it is UNMC’s code word for, “we have the resources to convince the public (by sowing moral confusion) that their ethical concerns are unfounded” and “we will marginalize (as a religious fanatic) anyone who argues to the contrary.”
In the aftermath of the controversy over UNMC’s clandestine research using brain tissue from induced abortions, UNMC assured state senators that while they wanted to continue doing fetal tissue research they had no intention of doing human embryo research and human cloning was definitely off the table. But just a few short years later (2005), UNMC officials gave public testimony in the Legislature expressing a desire to conduct embryonic stem cell and cloning research.
This Mini-Medical School provides further evidence that the Med Center will use every means available to advance a research agenda that is morally offensive and divisive to many Nebraskans. After creating a substantial amount of ill-will with many Nebraskans by doing fetal tissue research, it is outrageous that our tax-funded University would further provoke and divide Nebraskans by seeking to conduct research that intentionally destroys human life for research purposes.