Obama ends 8-year stem cell ban

By Andrew Stettler
March 26, 2009

In a time when more and more Americans want to buy American products only, those seeking stem cell treatment have to go abroad.

President Barack Obama’s recent executive order ending an eight-year ban on embryonic stem cell research has many college students asking, how will this change the medical world?

Stem cell research has always been legal, just not federally funded. The recent executive order signed by Obama merely allows legal government funding toward stem cell research, reversing former president George W. Bush’s 2001 ban.

In 2007, after years of suffering from Multiple Scelerosis, Betty Helm, founder of “Stem Cells For Hope,” traveled to Shenzhen, China for an adult stem cell injection procedure. She traveled to the Far East because stem cell procedures in the U.S. are surprisingly far more dangerous.

“Any clinic trials that they had in the United States required you to have chemotherapy to destroy your immune system before they give you stem cells,” Helm said.

During these therapy trials, because the immune system is completely wiped out, there is a mortality factor that Helm was not willing to risk. “I was not willing to destroy my immune system and be in a hospital.”

Before the procedure, Helm, who at the time was 57, struggled to perform daily tasks due to MS. “I could not walk very far, my leg would get numb, my knee would get out and my foot drop so I would trip and fall a lot,” Helm said.

When she tried to find help in the U.S., doctors tried to help Helm using anything but adult stem cells, including a daily medication that she said made her feel worse.

“Every doctor in the U.S. told me there is nothing I can do for you,” Helm said. Suffering from double vision, Helm and her family became desperate.

“I couldn’t even walk my dog. It was just basic life things that everyone takes for granted I couldn’t do any longer,” she said.

After traveling to China, Helm went through a clinical procedure including four spinal injections of adult stem cells, an I.V. acupuncture and consistent rehab, Helm’s life took a drastic change. She can now tend to the house and work on her home garden, but more importantly she can walk.

“I don’t have to worry about tripping and falling; I don’t have to think about every step before I make it.”

Helm admits that she is morally against using embryonic stem cells not because of any religious belief but because of research. She mentioned a case in India where a boy began growing brain tumors after being injected with stem cells that came from an unborn embryo.

Helm said she sees a western medical conception that doctors are reluctant to send patients abroad for help. However, while Helm struggled with her health, misconceptions and Hollywood horror stories kept her from finding treatment in the U.S.

“I didn’t want to spend my whole life suffering and dying before the politics resolved itself in this country in order to get help.”

With Obama legalizing embryonic stem cell research, little will change in the U.S. and Americans like Helm will still have to travel beyond democratic nations just to stay alive. Now college students must ask their politicians if this is what they really want.

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Andrew Stettler

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