Texas Gov. Rick Perry went far outside mainstream medicine last month to treat his bad back — an irresponsible choice that endangered himself and anyone who might follow his lead. He underwent a procedure where stem cells, made from fat taken from his body, were put into his bloodstream to see if they might find their way to help heal the bones in his back.
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Those who know stem cell science well are aghast. "As a highly influential person of power, Perry’s actions have the unfortunate potential to push desperate patients into the clinic of quacks,” Harvard’s stem cell expert George Daley told the Associated Press .
It is true that you can find a few doctors who don’t think this is nuts to do given the present state of knowledge about stem cells. Most of them are trying to make money doing the procedure.
Lest you think this is just cheap-shotting a personal medical choice, check the nonsense all over the Internet about the value of stem cell therapies. Quacks, conmen and ripoff artists are omnipresent. Perry is doing nothing to call out this sleazy activity.
In fact, Perry is not only a user of oddball therapy; he has been busy promoting it. He has been calling for investments using public funds in adult stem cell companies.
Last month, three weeks after he got his fat stem cell “treatment,” he wrote a letter to the Texas Medical Board, which is considering new rules regarding adult stem cells use. Perry told the doctors he hoped Texas would “become the world’s leader in the research and use of adult stem cells.” He asked board members to “recognize the revolutionary potential that adult stem cell research and therapies have on our nation’s health, quality of life and economy.”
The promise of adult stem cells may be fulfilled one day but that day is not yet here. The scientific evidence simply is not in place for offering adult stem cells as proven ”therapy” for much of anything.
Perry doesn’t seem to have a lot of faith in evidence-based medicine or science, causing me to wonder if he’d be supportive of either if he became president.
A few days ago he was asked at a campaign stop in New Hampshire about his support for evolutionary theory. The question came from a young boy who seemed to be prompted by his mom. He told the kid, “I hear your mom is asking about evolution and, you know, it’s a theory that’s out there, and it’s got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools.”
The mom then urged her son to “ask him why he doesn’t believe in science.” Perry responded, “Because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.”
In Perry’s Texas, evolution is a “theory” on a par with creationism. He thinks creationism should be taught so students can figure out which one is science? So Perry is not good at distinguishing faith from science?
He also disregarded scientific evidence a short time later when discussing vaccination during a radio interview. As governor of Texas, he issued an order requiring schoolgirls to get vaccinated against human papillomavirus , the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. Now, that he's running for president, he's calling his former policy a mistake, despite the fact that HPV vaccination for both girls and boys has gotten widespread support from medical experts based on solid evidence. Hearing a lot of grumbling from those who don’t like vaccination because they buy gobbledygook about vaccine safety or corporate plots to make fortunes giving shots to hapless schoolgirls, Perry threw science under the bus.
So, Perry equates creationism with evolution, is not willing to stand up to anti-vaccination zanies and is using and promoting “treatments” that are at present more closely tied to quackery then medicine. The evidence that he will be the kind of leader a nation dependent on science, biomedical research and technology for its future is so far not impressive.
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
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