Critic points out media bias against adult stem cells

Wesley J Smith Fr Tomasz Trafny CNA US Catholic News 11 23 11 Fr. Tomasz Trafny and Wesley J. Smith

After researchers in California called off a major U.S. embryonic stem cell study, a legal expert says that most major news outlets have given zero coverage to the far superior benefits of adult stem cells.

“Since embryonic stem cells were first derived, the media has told a materially unbalanced story,” said Wesley J. Smith, a lawyer and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism.

Smith said in a Nov. 23 interview with CNA that successful adult stem cell clinical trials “have either been ignored totally, or generally underplayed as story after story has claimed adult approaches offer more limited benefits than embryonic.”

His remarks come as the California-based biopharmecuetical company Geron announced on Nov. 18 that it has dropped a widely publicized embryonic stem cell research study.

Geron said that the FDA-approved study, which began in 2009 in attempt to treat spinal chord injuries, would have to end due to “capital scarcity.”

Fr. Tomasz Trafny, a member of the Vatican’s Council for Culture, said the move shows how  companies are beginning to see that it's “not worth it to invest money, energy,” and “human potentiality” in embryonic stem cell research.

The decision by Geron to end its study is significant “because they publicly acknowledge that that they don't see any significant improvements in that research,” he told CNA on Nov. 23.

Fr. Trafny said the shut down is also important because “it shows that those who focused on adult stem cells were right not only because of potential clinical applications but also from ethical point of view.”

The priest is a key player in the Vatican's recent and unprecedented contract with NeoStem, a public firm pioneering new medical research with adult stem cells.

He noted that stem cells are the body’s master cells from which all of the body’s 200-plus types of tissue ultimately grow. Their versatility allows for potential in providing replacement tissue to treat countless illnesses and disorders.

However, despite the widespread advances of adult stem cell research as a potential cure, Wesley argued that media coverage on the topic has been scarce if not non-existent.

“No one forced editors and reporters to ignore the press releases and published studies that described the ongoing and very encouraging adult stem cell successes. They simply usually chose to overplay embryonic and underplay adult stem cell research in their reporting.”

Smith believes that a contributing factor to this is that the media generally view issues through a political or religious lens.

He said that “disdain for pro-life views” as well as “anti-Catholic” sentiments can impact a particular  news outlet's analysis “of what constitutes an important story.”

“The media are particularly biased on 'cultural' issues and the embryonic stem cell controversy fits right in with that paradigm,” he added.

Smith said that in order to counteract this dynamic, alternative media “has to keep setting the record straight” and stay factually accurate in their reporting.

“In doing so, it is important that they not engage in the same journalistic malpractice from the other side,” he noted. “In other words, stick to the facts and don’t engage in the same kind of hype that the pro-embryonic stem cell research media have.” 

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Smith also said it's necessary to remind people “that the field is still young and many of the encouraging adult stem cell successes constitute early experimentation.” 

“This is important both as a matter of credibility—the double standard that cuts against 'conservative' views may be unfair but it isn’t going away—and as an example of what real journalism looks like.” 

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