Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It's Time to Pick Up a Hot Potato

It's not news to some of you that Baptist Press has had schizophrenia for the last 25 years. Some days it is a denominational news organization. Some days it is a political propaganda machine for the Republican National Committee. Until tonight, I've been able to accept this reality as I shake my head and chuckle at BP articles just like I shake my head and chuckle at the antics of Fox "News".

Tonight, this article posted by Tom Strode forces me to publicly take up the hot potato of stem cell research and multiple sclerosis.

I wanted to email Strode directly but I was unable to find direct email addresses for BP writers. So I composed the following email to the general contact email address provided and, since I picked up the article from its RSS feed, cc'd to Don Kirkland, editor of South Carolina's Baptist newspaper, The Baptist Courier.

Dear Friends,

I am a Southern Baptist minister of music who also happens to be a man who lives with multiple sclerosis. As you might imagine, in addition to following developments in the treatment of MS, I also pay close attention to references to MS in the press. It is quite rare to see multiple sclerosis referenced in Baptist Press. It is particularly disheartening to see it referenced in a paragraph that is factually wrong.

Tom Strode states in his June 27 article on stem cell legislation: Unlike research using embryos, extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow has nearly universal support. Such research has produced treatments for at least 72 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.

Because it does not carry the ethical or political baggage of embryonic stem cell research, adult stem cell research enjoys broad support.

I am unable to speak to any progress made in treatment of any of the “at least 72 ailments” other than multiple sclerosis Mr. Strode references. However, I can assure you that NO BROADLY AVAILABLE TREATMENT has been produced for multiple sclerosis using stem cells, embryonic or non-embryonic. There are a some clinical trials underway, a couple are in Phase II of a minimum of three phases of required testing, that give a little hope that adult stems cells may eventually help some with MS. Instances described as “treatment” in literature produced by Do No Harm refer to isolated experiments or trial results. Some of the trials underway are being conducted with as few as five participants. I am aware of one trial open to as many as 110 participants. There are more that 400,000 Americans living with multiple sclerosis. (I wonder how many of that 400,000 are Southern Baptist.)

Mr. Strode’s statement will lead readers to the conclusion that people faced with multiple sclerosis are benefiting from non-embryonic stem cell research. This is demonstrably false.

“There is a real and achievable prospect that stem cells will enable us to repair damaged tissue in MS,” said Dr. Robin Franklin, of the Cambridge (England) Centre for Brain Repair, which is taking part in the (National Multiple Sclerosis) Society's multicenter Repair and Protection Initiative. “That said, we are still in the very early days,” he said, cautioning people to keep their hopes in perspective. “The prospects are too precious to damage them by rushing ahead too fast.”

Baptist Press is misinforming Southern Baptists about the progress of non-embryonic stem cell sources in addressing MS. It is a disservice to Southern Baptists and a disservice to people living with MS.

Charles Roberts
Minister of Music
First Baptist Church, Hartsville, SC

1 comment:

Alex said...

Great letter. Did you get any responses?