Sunday, December 20, 2009

Freep: Judging Embryos By the Color of Their Skin?

The Detroit Free Press no sooner got done explaining how embryonic stem cells are harmlessly harvested from little “spheres containing about 100 undifferentiated cells” then they realized that the little spheres would all grow up to all be the same color, if they weren’t being murdered first.

Yes, Jim Crow lives under the microscopes of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology. (“Stem cell diversity must be assured”).

You have to read this one for yourself:

One of the more shameful American truths is the racial health care gap, including the disparate rates at which African Americans and other ethnic minorities find their doctors following standard care procedures for common ailments.

If you're black and you've got heart disease, chances are your doctor will order tests to find it later than he or she would have for a white patient, according to studies done by researchers at Harvard's school of public health. Same goes for tests for high cholesterol, blood sugar or a host of other issues.

The gap is narrowing, which is the good news. But it may also be extending into areas in which medicine is taking great leaps forward to help cure disease, which is a little alarming.

Sean Morrison, who heads the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology, said last week that he's concerned too many of the stem cell lines he and others at the university are researching come from a narrow ethnic background. They're mostly northern and western European, he said, to the exclusion of African and other ethnicities.

The problem may lie with the source of most stem cell lines. They come from unused embryos at fertility clinics. And since fertility treatments are very much the province of people with money, the wealth gap that exists in this country may now be playing out in stem cell lines that become available for research.

Down the road, this threatens the viability of cures and treatments that might be discovered using the stem cell lines. Maybe they'll work fine for people of some ethnic backgrounds, but not as well for others.

The solution, for now, is for researchers to focus specifically on developing stem cell lines from ethnic groups that are underrepresented. They'll have to do that by homing in on the ones available, mostly from fertility clinics.

But long term, this makes Congress' continuing restrictions on the development of stem cell lines look silly. Stem cell research is important and has life-saving implications for millions of people. Lawmakers are standing in the way of its full potential, and also its fairness, as the dearth of non-European stem cell lines demonstrates. It's hard to see how extending America's historically shameful racial health care gap into the future of medicine serves anyone's interests.
What the Freep defines as “the problem” is “the dearth of non-European stem cell lines”--from fertility clinics employed mostly by white people. What the Freep wants, without coming out and saying so, is the expansion of stem-cell lines from “discardable” mostly-white fertility-clinic embryos to fertilized eggs purchased from minority women.

Just think of it as affirmative action for doomed black embryos.

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