It was an unlikely sight. Yesterday in Angell Hall the president of Students for Life and the Student Society for Stem Cell Research sat side-by-side as they watched advocates from both sides of the stem cell debate make their cases.
The event featured paired panelists – a politician, a researcher and an activist from each side – who alternated order in giving presentations about their stances on the issue.
Students for Life was represented by Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo), Dr. David Prentice and pro-life activist Cindy Northon.
SSSCR picked former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, Dr. Sue O’Shea – the director of the University’s human embryonic stem cell core facility – and Kathleen Russell, who suffers from an advanced stage of early-onset Parkinson’s disease.
The event was initiated by SSSCR, which e-mailed the president of Students for Life and invited the group to join them in a “non-biased effort to promote education of the controversy regarding stem cell research,” as SSSCR education chair Landon Krantz put it.
And controversy there was.
Each speaker had a pre-prepared speech they gave, but some of the facts presented directly contradicted other speakers. As expected, many of the arguments raised remain unresolved.
One discrepancy was on the question of whether adult stem cells have the same research potential as embryonic ones.
Prentice strongly suggested they did, citing studies claiming stem cells from liposuctioned fat and umbilical cord blood have the ability to become many different kinds of body cells, like embryonic stem cells. O’Shea, though, maintained that such adult stem cells do not have this ability, and he said that some of the original papers Prentice quoted had been withdrawn.
“Cord blood and fat cells just simply don’t turn into neurons,” she said.
Another point of contention was the matter of donated embryos available for research.
O’Shea and others in favor of rescinding laws that prohibit research said that there is an abundance of embryos in in-vitro fertilization clinics that could potentially be used for research.
Hoogendyk and Northon, though, both cited a study that listed the embryos with donor consent for research at less than 3 percent of the total and said the vast majority of the embryos are designated for couples to attempt pregnancy in the future.
For the most part, the panelists were respectful of each other and the views of the opposition.
The forum grew heated, though, when Northon suggested that Russell, the next speaker, might use her Parkinson’s disease to gain support. When she got on stage, Russell, shaking with tremors from her disease, condemned Northon’s use of her name in her speech.