When Telling the Truth Is a Lie

The misinformation about embryonic stem cell research continued in the L.A. Times yesterday. The story was titled "Stem cells in the bank - for what, it's not yet known: Umbilical cord blood storage booms on parents' fears." The story contrasted the as yet unknown potential for therapeutic uses of umbilical cord stem cells and the supposed known promise of embryonic stem cells. But they managed to get it exactly backwards while still telling the truth.

Here's the bit of truth that really was a lie: "But there is little evidence that the promise of cord blood will ever be realized. The blood does indeed contain stem cells, but they are far different from the much-touted embryonic stem cells, which come from newly formed embryos and have the ability to become any tissue type. That crucial distinction has been largely ignored...."

Yes, embryonic stem cells do have the ability to become any tissue type - but so far only in the natural environment of the womb as the embryo develops from its nascent stages. No therapies have been developed from stem cells. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. So far embryonic stem cells used for research have only shown a potential for developing into grotesque mutations. The only therapies actually developed from stem cells have been developed from other sources that don't destroy tiny human beings - the ones that don't have as much "potential to become any tissue type" actually hold the promise hyped by supporters of ESCR.

So the L.A. Times tells the truth only to get the reality of stem cell research exactly backwards. The irony is the superscripts and subtitles used throughout the article: "Selling scientific promise," "Fear, guilt, hope drive trend," "The Religion of cord blood." These are all true of the so far fruitless ESCR that the L.A. Times is trying to sell, a lie driven by a kernel of truth.

(Postscript: Mario Cuomo perpetuates the same myth about embryonic stem cells in today's New York Times. Registration required.)

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Melinda Penner