Danforth speaks on stem cell issue

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

More than 200 people listened as Dr. William Danforth, M.D., chancellor emeritus of Washington University, discussed the background of the Missouri stem cell initiative including: understanding the need for the initiative, some of the history of stem cell research and the possible economic impact on Missouri without the protection of the initiative.

He recently spoke at Congregation Shaare Emeth as the Sydney and Sylvia Jacobs Event Lecturer along with Donn Rubin, chairman of Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures. The event was co-sponsored by the American Jewish Congress.

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Danforth said the need for the initiative was prompted by recent bills proposed in the Missouri legislature which would have made some types of stem cell research illegal. The initiative would insure that any stem cell research allowed under the federal law would be allowed in Missouri.

“It is reprehensible for our legislature to want to pass laws that would make criminals of our doctors, nurses and patients,” Rubin said. “This bill will level the playing field. It will make sure that any stem cell research or therapies or cures, which are allowed under federal law, would be allowed in Missouri.”

Danforth acknowledged the newness of the science of stem cells and the questions arising from the research. However he questioned why certain people are so concerned about cells destroyed as part of stem cell research and ignore the cells destroyed regularly because of in-vitro fertilization. Those numbers far exceed the number destroyed during stem cell research according to Danforth. He shared his confusion about the values of people who are against stem cell research by telling the story of the person who was president of Yale in 1800 who opposed vaccinations because he felt if God had decreed the people should die from smallpox then they should die of smallpox.

Stem cell research is another way to advance medical science and the health of humanity, Danforth said. He pointed out advances in medical research have helped insure healthy babies, mothers not dying during childbirth, the cure of polio, MRI and PET scans eliminating most of the need for invasive exploratory surgeries and laparoscopic surgeries. He even suggested many people in the audience wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for some of the medical advances.

“I am here because I believe in medical research, medical innovation and medical progress,” Danforth said. “We have to keep looking ahead. There are still many infectious diseases out there. They are like bad political ideas: they keep mutating until they find susceptible people.”

There was also concern expressed by Danforth and Rubin about the effect legislative bans would have on the economic future of Missouri. Part of the economic develop plan Danforth and others have been working on includes helping people start businesses to make use of the advances coming from the biomedical research happening in Missouri and elsewhere. There is great concern the researchers and their companies will leave which would leave a creative and monetary void for the state.

“Last year the governor of Illinois sent a letter to the top doctors in Missouri to recruit them because of the cloud hanging over the state with threat of drastic legislation,” Rubin said.

Danforth fielded several questions and even addressed one he said he wished had been asked: what are you going to do if the initiative does not pass?

“Nothing will happen,” Danforth said. “We will be right where we are now. We will continue to do battle which will happen in the next legislative session. We are working very hard to encourage candidates to run for office who are not a part of the Christian Right and who really understand science.”

“People will probably be arguing these things for generations after we’re gone,” Danforth said. “I hope people in the future, just like people now, will protect enlightenment and human welfare.”