September 2001

Stemming the Tide

By Michael J. Katin, MD

As you know, last month's coverage of the controversy over stem cell research was postponed until this month due to the urgent need to address the philosophical implications of Planet of the Apes. This month it was again threatened by the release of the film Bubble Boy, but a consensus of the editorial panel is that Bubble Boy will take care of itself and it's time to address the stem cell question before it's totally forgotten by the third week of the NFL season.

To those of us in the medical field, and for those of you who have surfed into this site inadvertantly from realsheep.com or elsewhere, it is amusing yet disturbing to hear those in the political and entertainment world giving opinions on stem cell research when we know most of them don't know the difference between a blastocyst and a basilisk and only a short time ago were desperately pushing to approve laetrile.

I think it is finally time to insist that anybody who wants to comment on this topic, whether it be George W. Bush, Mary Tyler Moore, or Arlen Specter be required to pass a short multiple-choice test to make sure that person has even a rudimentary knowledge of the subject. This should not be used to establish a precedent requiring testing before allowing one to comment on the economy, global politics, or environmental issues, or else the news media would probably become drastically deprived of material.

Choose the most correct answer:

1. Most stem cells are:

A. Round
B. Green
C. Furry
D. Catholic

2. Stem cells are most easily obtained by:

A. Removal from adult blood
B. Separating specific cells from embryos
C. Combining molecules in the laboratory
D. Court order

3. When stem cells are injected into tissue, they become:

A. Muscle cells
B. The same cells as the tissue targeted
C. Cellulite
D. The basis for a dot-com company IPO

4. When stored embryos are not used for several years, they:

A. Differentiate
B. Deteriorate
C. Become eligible for Medicaid
D. Escape

5. Diseases that might be cured as a result of stem cell research include:

A. Diabetes mellitus
B. Rhinophyma
C. Dyspareunia
D. Scrofula

6. Stem cells can change into many different types of cells. This is called being:

A. Adaptive
B. Innocent
C. Pluripotent
D. Clintonian

7. The medium used to keep embryos frozen is:

A. Water
B. Liquid Nitrogen
C. Mucus
D. Guinness Stout

8. Stem cells communicate with surrounding tissue by:

A. Biochemical reactions
B. Electropotential differentials
C. Sense-Antisense molecules
D. Stem cell phones (sorry)

9. The proper way to dispose of unwanted embryos is:

A. They are "just clumps of microscopic cells" (NY Times editorial) and can be used for research or undergo destruction with other medical waste
B. They are "pre-born children" that need to be preserved or adopted
C. The subject is complicated and is not yet resolved
D. Broiled, with a nice chianti

10. It is estimated that there are at least 100,000 frozen embryos in storage. These represent:

A. A tremendous opportunity to obtain tissue that can advance the bounds of medical knowledge and help save lives
B. A tremendous source of joy for couples who cannot conceive through standard techniques
C. A challenge to the ethical community
D. The swing votes in the General Election of 2020

I think a score of 80% should be required to allow opinions to be expressed on this topic. This proposal is especially important since Congress and the Administration will now be dealing with more and more reproductive-related topics over the next few years, dealing with subjects that previously were not brought so deeply into the realm of governmental control.

I have on good authority that the topic of next year's debate will be: sperm limits.


email: mkatin@radiotherapy.com