Few health-related topics are as controversial as the debate over stem cell research, and it's not difficult to understand why. When life begins is a question as old as time. The use of stem cells in humans is a vast unknown and the possibility of unintended consequences must be acknowledged. I have long wrestled with my feelings on this subject.
Every day I feel the effects of multiple sclerosis and the toll it is taking on my body. My future is no more or less certain than anyone's, but it is hard to ignore the consequences of MS when it unleashes its full force.
Scientists at Novocell recently reported that they were able to turn stem cells into cells that produced insulin in mice. This is a giant step forward in the fight against diabetes. While similar tests are years away for humans, the promise of a better treatment -- or a cure -- for diabetes gives rise to new hope for those who live with this condition.
Researchers are optimistic that stem cells will also lead to advances in the treatment for multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, parkinson's disease, and countless other immune and genetic disorders.
Reading this report aloud to my husband, Jake, I was aware of the excitement and hope in my own voice. I was thinking about his daughter, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 9. Now in her thirties and wearing an insulin pump, she has had to endure countless medical procedures as a direct result of diabetes. She will never know freedom from the insulin pump or needles. She doesn't have the luxury of letting her guard down for a single moment. Could you look into her eyes and tell her that her life is not worthy of this avenue of research? I have looked into her father's eyes; there is no doubt there. If he could harness the stem cells himself, in order to help his daughter and his wife, nothing could stop him.
We've heard from the celebrity patient-advocates for stem cell research, notably, Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox and Mary Tyler Moore. But nothing has greater impact than watching a loved one suffer.
Speaking of former president Reagan's battle with alzheimer's disease, Nancy Reagan is quoted as saying, “There are so many diseases that can be cured or at least helped. We have lost so much time already and I just really can't bear to lose anymore. Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. Because of this I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain.”
In addition to focusing on those of us who live with a chronic illness, we should turn our attention to those who must witness our descent, those who must tend to us, those whose suffering is infinitely more difficult to quantify.
A photo hangs on the wall of our living room. In it, my step-daughter sits in her wedding dress, surrounded by the people who love her. I look at that photo, then I look into Jake's eyes, and I know where I stand.
Published On: February 28, 2008