First – do no harm


During the last month prior to the 2004 presidential election, John Edwards, while speaking at a campaign rally in Newton, Iowa, said the following regarding his position on stem—cell research:

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 are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.

That's quite a promise. And if elected would he have been able to deliver? Later that week Charles Krauthammer wrote an op—ed for the Washington Post and had this to say:

Where do I begin to deconstruct this outrage?

First, the inability of the human spinal cord to regenerate is one of the great mysteries of biology. The answer is not remotely around the corner. It could take a generation to unravel. To imply, as Mr. Edwards did, that it is imminent if only you elect the right politicians is scandalous.

Second, if the cure for spinal cord injury comes, we have no idea where it will come from. There are many lines of inquiry. Stem cell research is just one of many possibilities, and a very speculative one at that. For 30 years I have heard promises of miracle cures for paralysis (including my own, suffered as a medical student). The last fad, fetal tissue transplants, was thought to be a sure thing. Nothing came of it.

As a doctor by training, I've known better than to believe the hype —— and have tried in my own counseling of the newly spinal—cord injured to place the possibility of cure in abeyance. I advise instead to concentrate on making a life (and a very good life it can be) with the hand one is dealt. The greatest enemy of this advice has been the snake—oil salesmen promising a miracle around the corner. I never expected a candidate for vice president to be one of them.

There are not few who dislike Mr. Krauthammer as much or more than they disagree with his politics. Some searching on the internet easily brings them out in fair numbers from under their rocks. But whatever one might think of him, I believe that as a person suffering from a serious spinal chord injury that he would not deny hope to himself, let alone others, nor offer it when there was none. To do so would be doubly cruel — to others as well as himself.

It is precisely the power of hope, the ability of hope to provide solace and motivation in the most desperate situations, that makes the manipulation of hope such an appalling offense. The selling of false hope is a contemptible exploitation. Whatever comfort a false hope temporarily offers, it is far offset by the damage that is caused when the illusion is crushed by reality. Not only do bitterness and resentment replace the optimism a false belief once supported, but for the terminally ill it is often too late to go beyond bitterness and arrive at any kind of peace. To die an angry death, betrayed by hope and cursing those who have lied to you, is a fate few would wish on even their worst enemies.

...said Maureen L. Condic in the August—September, 2002 issue of First Things. Ms. Condic, who is an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, working on the regeneration of adult and embryonic neurons following spinal cord injury, later on in the article stated that:

To offer false hope to the desperate as a means of advancing a political, social, or economic agenda is worse than merely cruel, it is objectively evil. Valuable resources are being diverted from other, perhaps more promising, areas of research, and, in the meantime, patients and their families are serving as pawns in a political arena. People facing the prospect of suffering and death deserve better than this. As patients, they deserve the best that science and medicine can offer. As human beings, they deserve honesty. No amount of false hope can alter the fact that after more than twenty years of unrestricted research on animal embryonic stem cells, this field has failed to yield a single cure for any human illness. (Emphasis in original)

I hope but little expect that our Noble Senators will, at least in this case, heed Hippocrates's caveat.

Dennis Sevakis 5 26 05