Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Curing the Lame

Bill Frist needs to remember where he came from.

John Edwards had this to say about stem cell research and the late Christopher Reeve:
"[Reeve] was a powerful voice for the need to do stem cell research and change the lives of people like him.

"If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."
Tennessee Senator and Majority Leader Bill Frist retorted:
"I find it opportunistic to use the death of someone like Christopher Reeve -- I think it is shameful -- in order to mislead the American people. We should be offering people hope, but neither physicians, scientists, public servants or trial lawyers like John Edwards should be offering hype.

"It is cruel to people who have disabilities and chronic diseases, and, on top of that, it's dishonest. It's giving false hope to people, and I can tell you as a physician who's treated scores of thousands of patients that you don't give them false hope."
It's very odd for Frist to be saying something like this, because as a doctor his life has been dedicated to giving people hope.

If you strip out the election rhetoric regarding Kerry's election, Edwards is saying (what a lot of others in the medical community are saying) that he is confident that continued stem cell research will provide cures or at least more effective treatments for conditions like Reeve's spinal cord injury, or Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's, or any number of other diseases.

It's rhetoric, sure, but it's forward-thinking, positive, hopeful rhetoric. And it's language that's been used to bridge the medical community with the public for years in providing hope and requesting funding for continued medical research.

Look at Edwards' quote again but without the bit about Kerry:
If we do the work that we can do in this country, [...] people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.
Sure he wants Kerry to be president, and he believes a Kerry presidency will do more for stem cell research than another Bush presidency. That's pretty obvious from past events. But looking at the meat of the quote, he believes that it's possible with enough hard work, determination, support, money and research that spinal paralysis can be cured.

Where would we be of people had not thought the same about other diseases? Would cancer have the same cure rate it does today without confidence and research? How about heart disease? Polio? While there's still a long way to go, even AIDS research is making lives better for its victims than a couple of decades ago.

Frist said:
It's giving false hope to people, and I can tell you as a physician who's treated scores of thousands of patients that you don't give them false hope.
Senator Frist, everything that comes out of an opposite party member's mouth is not automatically false, and you as a physician should know that it's not false hope Reeve championed, it was true hope. Unless you have some exclusive research that we're not privy to that stem cell research is utterly useless, then you are the one giving the false hope.

Grow up.

UPDATE: Don't believe there's hope?

A human face on dreams - Chris Reeve's legacy: superhuman clout to medical research (Knoxville News Sentinel, 10/12/04, Registration required)

Shall we argue with the president of the American Spinal Injury Association?
""The biggest hope is in biological research to allow the spinal cord to heal itself and even regenerate. That's just over the horizon but closer than ever before. Most people feel within the next 10 to 15 years, somewhere within our lifetimes," said Dr. Jack Ziegler, president of the American Spinal Injury Association."
How about Johns Hopkins University?
'"Some even thought it would come in time for Reeve. "I thought it was going to happen," said Dr. Doug Kerr, a Johns Hopkins University neurologist who works with stem cells - controversial research that Reeve advocated with superhuman strength even as he wheezed through a respirator from his wheelchair. "It was Star Wars science fiction, this concept of rewiring the nervous system," but Reeve "thrust this field forward by leaps and bounds," Kerr said.'
And it's worked in the lab, with animals:
"Scientists think these early, all-purpose cells can be coaxed to form nerves and specialized tissues to repair a host of woes. Reeve and fellow actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, have helped make stem cells a major campaign issue between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

At Hopkins, research a few years ago demonstrated that stem cells could allow paralyzed mice and rats to do just that."
Think it's hype?
'Finally, a feeling of hope: "This is one of the most difficult tasks you can ask a stem cell to do - to rewire, to extend axons and to form new connections at great distances to restore function," said Kerr. "We're clearly getting there."'
You think it's a false hope?
'Before Reeve, if someone had a spinal cord injury, "there was really no hope," said Dr. John McDonald, director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Washington University in St. Louis where Reeve was treated. "He's changed all that. He's demonstrated that there is hope and that there are things that can be done."'
Hope is all that some people have.

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