On stem cells, vaccines and ignorance


By Amanda Smith


IÕm not a woman who is easily angered, but this is one issue guaranteed to spike my blood pressure. It isnÕt really the issue of stem cell research itself which prods spirited debates from me, but rather, it is purposeful ignorance. Two situations here will support my point: the controversy over stem cell research and the more recent battle over the new STD vaccine, Gardasil.

Case 1: The religious right tells us human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR) should be prohibited because even embryos which havenÕt been implanted have the same rights as a completely developed person. This is an absolutely ridiculous statement. Picture yourself in a fertility clinic which is burning down. You have the option of saving either the other person, or a freezer full of thousands of unused embryos. Would your choice really be that difficult? We are told destroying embryos is wrong because they have the potential of becoming humans. This begs the question which is more important: somebody who already exists, or the potential for an existing human?

You may wonder why I brought fertility clinics into this debate. They pair with the stem cell issue perfectly. Researchers want to use fertilized eggs clinics havenÕt used and will ultimately destroy. Sure, each of these fertilized eggs has potential, but if they will be destroyed regardless, why not let scientists use them for good purposes? Why let the potential for good work be wasted? Few who find stem cell research immoral also disapprove of fertility clinics and the practice of in vitro fertilization. Not many people IÕve had this debate with fully realize just how many embryos must be created for one successful pregnancy. If it is immoral to use embryos for research, then why isnÕt it immoral for a woman to allow a large number of embryos to be destroyed in the process of becoming impregnated via IVF? If you couldnÕt guess, the worst kind of ignorance in this case is being informed about the procedures of IVF and stem cell research, while stubbornly protesting one issue, but not the other. This is just one example of how ignorance, purposeful or not, is harmful to the advancement of medical science.

Case 2: The controversy surrounding the new vaccine, Gardasil. If youÕve watch much TV recently youÕve probably seen ads for this new drug which protects against the human papiloma virus. The strains targeted by this vaccine cause cervical cancer, so a breakthrough protection for this disease would be seen as good, right? Not so much. Some middle and high schools have pushed for this vaccine to be required of all girls, but this push hasnÕt been easy. Some claim requiring this vaccination will lead to increased teenage promiscuity. This, dear reader, is another outrageous claim. Put yourself in a teenage girlÕs shoes. Would you have sex just because you know youÕre protected from this one disease? I know I wouldnÕt. If teenagers are going to have sex, theyÕll do it whether or not theyÕre protected against STDÕs such as HPV. Tell me, do you think if a vaccine for a venereal disease which affects only men were created there would be controversy on requiring the vaccine on grounds it would make recipients of the vaccine promiscuous? I highly doubt this would happen. Probably, it would be seen as a miracle drug, and there would be no problem making it required for all middle and high school aged boys.

You might be thinking itÕs a bad idea to push Gardasil on adolescents simply because so few studies have been done looking for side effects. I agree with this argument. Gardasil shouldnÕt be required immediately, we should first learn what will happen long term to vaccine recipients before forcing it on teenagers. My point is: fighting approval of a drug on moral grounds is unethical. To wrap this up, I have one question: if there were a way to help those in need, be it through vaccines, or stem cell therapies, would you really say no?


Amanda Smith will be a senior this fall at Knox College majoring in biology. She is studying embryonic stem-cells this summer in the collegeÕs laboratory under a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Research Center.