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ISSUE 118 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/22/2005

Forum explores stem cells

By Clare Kennedy
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 22, 2005

On Thursday, April 14, Omicron Alpha, St. Olaf’s political science honors society, and the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) hosted a spring forum titled “Ethics and Stem Cell Research.”

The forum featured three guest speakers, each notable in the bioethical debate or political activism surrounding the stem cell controversy, and drew many students, as well as those from the surrounding community, nearly filling Science Center 280.

Stem cells are "unspecialized" cells which can generate healthy new cells, tissues and organs. Adult stem cells are less mutable and are found in a variety of biological materials.

Embryonic stem cells come from excess materials used in in-vitro fertilization.

The forum began with a series of ten-minute presentations, which gave each speaker a chance to articulate his position before a panel discussion and question and answer session moderated by Edward Langerak, professor of philosophy.

The first to speak was Matt Jordan, a representative of the California Research and Cures Coalition, a federation of organizations in support of stem cell research. The coalition recently organized the passage of Proposition 71, which uses state bonds to fund stem cell research of all kinds at California's medical research facilities.

Jordan gave a brief scientific overview of the research before defending the funding of both kinds of stem cell research as promising means to finding cures for diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, autism, osteoporosis, spinal cord injuries and many other medical conditions.

He was followed by Nigel Cameron, an expert on bioethics and a former provost and distinguished professor of theology and culture at Trinity International University in Illinois. Cameron took a stance against public funding of such research, citing the lack of interest in the private sector as an indicator of the emptiness of the potential of stem cell research.

He compared it to the human genome project, a research movement which also promised to deliver cures for terminal illnesses but which, according to Cameron, has yet to produce any clinical results.

"This will not lead to the ‘Brave New World’; we will have got there already," he said.

He also objected to embryonic stem cell research on moral grounds.

The last speaker was Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota.

Kahn discussed the political and legal ramifications of the debate and its implications concerning the moral status of the human embryo.

Kahn argued in favor of public spending on stem cell research, in the belief that government research would allow for more ethical accountability and regulation than research in the private sector.

Student reactions were mixed, though many enjoyed the forum. "I liked Dr. Kahn, he was a very good mediator between the other two speakers," Liz Sexe ’07 said.

Ryan Ritzer ’07 took a more critical stance. "I didn’t agree with Cameron’s comparison between the human genome project and stem cell research," he said. "I didn’t think it was fair, because they aren’t really related."

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