Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let's talk about stem cells

You can't mention stem cells without infuriating some folks. Some reactions I've heard include claims that stem cell research kills innocent lives. Now, if you want to get people's attention and quickly get them on your side, I can't think of a better way than yelling, "If you support stem cell research, you support killing babies!" Who wants to jump on the stem cell bandwagon when faced with that proposition? Spouting a statement like this is an Appeal to Emotion, which is a fallacy. It's when someone attempts to manipulate or appeal to your emotions in place of evidence, to get you to support their claim. Don't get me wrong, it's hard to combat this fallacy. But, you've got to try! The problem is that this statement is NOT TRUE. Incendiary, misinformed comments like this lead to the spread of ignorance and can be quite harmful.

Let's talk facts. There are a few different types of stem cells, but the ones that most people refer to in these discussions are embryonic stem cells. So what are they? They are cells that come from four day old embryos. At this stage, the embryos are more accurately called blastocysts and contain 150 cells. What's the dilemma? To get the cells to use in research, the embryo must be destroyed. So if we are establishing the fact that we must destroy a four day old embryo to further our research, the real question becomes, Where do these embryos come from? I think it may surprise a lot of people to know their origin. Embryos used in stem cell research come from donated frozen embryos that were no longer needed or wanted at in vitro fertilization clinics. So these embryos were fertilized in clinics, for the original purpose of implantation into women. Later it was determined that they weren't needed for fertilization, so they were donated. If they hadn't been donated, what would've happened? They would have remained frozen embryos indefinitely, never to become living, breathing human beings, or they would've been destroyed anyways.

To me, having this knowledge, this issue really becomes a non-issue. Let's see, I purposely and intentionally and legally went to an in vitro clinic to aid in my attempt to get pregnant. I froze my fertilized embryos for future use. After I used some, or changed my mind and didn't use some, I pondered what to do with my remaining eggs. MY remaining eggs. If I chose to donate them, why should they be turned away? Embryonic stem cells can divide into more stem cells and can become any type of body cell. This makes their potential for regeneration or repair of diseased tissue and organs extremely high. It also means they hold promise for the potential treatment of debilitating diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, etc. So I can either destroy my unwanted embryos with no benefit, or I can destroy my unwanted embryos and possibly contribute to future medical breakthroughs. I don't see how this is even a decision.

It seems like if people knew the facts and still had a problem with stem cell research, they'd start pushing for legislation against in vitro clinics. That's where the problem starts, right?

Props: I referred to All About Popular Issues and the Mayo Clinic and PBS in my research.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Walk in their shoes

Hardly a week goes by in Dallas where you won't encounter a homeless person at an intersection. I'd say I probably see one or two people a week, holding up a sign, asking for food or money. I'll be completely honest...it wasn't too long ago that I would look upon these people in disgust. I certainly wouldn't give them money, and condescending thoughts would immediately enter my head. "I bet they just use the money for alcohol." "They're so lazy." "Oh great, he's coming towards my car." I look back on these thoughts, and I'm completely and utterly embarrassed. What made me so much better than them? Because I drove a nice car? Owned a home? Had a college education? Big deal. I've worked really hard to get to where I am today, but I can't deny that I've been lucky in life. My mother was able to stay home and raise me and give me constant attention and nurturing. Not many families are able to manage on only one income. Maybe that played a part in my later success in school. My parents sent me to private school for most of my life, where I got a fantastic education that really prepared me for the future. Not everybody has parents who can afford private school. My achievements in high school led to scholarships, which provided me the opportunity for higher learning. Getting my Master's Degree opened a lot of doors and has helped in securing a fantastic job. A lot of things had to fall into place throughout this process. I didn't get here on hard work alone. So how would my life have been different if any of the aforementioned opportunities were missing? What if all of them were missing? It's easy to look at a homeless person and say, "Oh, I would never be in that situation" or "I would never allow that to happen to me or my family." Some people just don't have the same fortune we do, through no fault of their own. And the moment we acknowledge that, we realize that we can't look down on others, whom we know nothing about, and assume the worst. We're all human beings. We're all trying to survive. Can you imagine the day where you decide your best option is standing on a street corner, begging for money? I doubt it.

"Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness." - Seneca

My stance on homeless people has changed, in part, because of my friend Kristen. Every now and then we'll talk about what we did over the previous weekend, and halfway through her story, she'll get to a part about how she bought some food for a homeless person. She doesn't go out of her way to point it out, in some attempt to gain praise; she just mentions it because it played a part in her activities that day. And I'm sure there are many times she makes no mention at all of her interactions with the homeless. It's just so second nature to her to offer food to a homeless person. She doesn't have to. She could easily get her pizza and walk right by that guy. But she doesn't. She orders an extra slice so he'll have something to eat. She makes me want to be a better person.

So I'm trying. I don't look the other way. I read the sign and I make eye contact. I treat them like human beings. If I have a dollar, I give it to them. And I smile when I give it, in hopes that it might make them smile. What if my dollar went towards the only meal they were having that day? What a big difference I just made in their life, then. What if that dollar went towards a beer? Oh well, better luck next time. I'm no worse off in life. I think I'll take the risk that my money goes towards an unfavorable outcome, if there's also a chance that it could do some good.

"At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in'." - Mother Teresa

Monday, March 9, 2009

It's About Life

Jer and I visited the Bodies Exhibit in Las Vegas last week and got to see some pretty neat things. It's amazing how complex our bodies are, and how much scientists have been able to learn from them over the years. It really got us thinking. Seeing actual human bodies on display, used for research and the spread of knowledge, reminded us that being buried in the ground really doesn't do any good. I'm sorry if this offends people, but it honestly made me view the act of choosing not to donate your organs or not to donate your body to science as a selfish one. If you have the option of giving your organs to someone else to prolong or improve their life, why would you choose not to do so? When the time comes, let's face it - you're dead. Do you need your organs while your body decomposes? Lately I've been reflecting on my life alot, and how I'm living it. I want to be remembered as a generous, giving person after I'm gone. If I chose not to donate my organs, that would be contradictory to my purpose. If I am giving in life, I can be giving in death. If you'd like to find out more information about becoming a donor, visit the Donate Life America website. I'm proud to be a donor.

Friday, March 6, 2009

My March Selection

My thanks to Katie for her suggestion! This month I'm choosing to support the World Wildlife Fund. The WWF is a multinational conservation organization that (among other things) protects natural areas and endangered species, and promotes sustainable and more efficient uses of resources and energy. Being a humanist, I am drawn to the WWF's mission of aspiring to the greater good of humanity.

There are many ways to support the WWF including species adoption, buying apparel promoting the WWF, or purchasing crafts that support indigenous communities. If you don't have a few dollars to spare, there are also ways to make a difference that don't involve money! Click here to find out how you can help combat climate change by making a few changes around your house. You can also take part in "Earth Hour." Turn off your lights for one hour on March 28, 2009, starting at 8:30pm, to raise awareness and take action to fight climate change.

Also in March, Jeremiah and I are participating in the "Strut Your Mutt" walk sponsored by the SPCA. It's a 3K Walk/Fun Run on Saturday, March 21, 2009. We'll be bringing our dogs and supporting the cause. We'd love for you to join us out there on the walk, even if you don't have a dog to bring along! Or, consider donating on our behalf if you'd like. My page can be found here and Jeremiah's page is here. Thanks and have a great month of March!