Getting straight on stem cells

MADISON, WI -  MARCH 10:  Irina Elcheva a employee of WiCell Research Institue, Inc. prepares stem cells for culture at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at University Wisconsin-Madison March 10, 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin.  On March 9, 2009 President Barack Obama signed an order reversing the Bush administration's limits on human embryonic stem cell research. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

One of the things I like about being a reporter is that you get to learn something new every day. That's even true with media criticism. When I first started here at GetReligion, I analyzed some stories about embryonic stem cell research. I didn't know terribly much about the topic but learned over years of reading. One of the first things I learned was that far too often reporters covering the topic would write that opponents of embryonic destruction opposed "stem cell research." They failed to distinguish between that stem cell research that involves the destruction of embryos (or even the creation and subsequent destruction of embryos) and stem cell research that didn't involve any such loss of human life.

Over time I noticed that reporters were doing a much better job of making this distinction. It's nice when you see improvements in how a given topic is covered and I think we fail to acknowledge these improvements as much as we should. Color me surprised at the Oklahoman's headline for this Associated Press report:

Adult stem cell research far ahead of embryonic

I'm not surprised by the news itself -- I've read enough to know this is true. I'm surprised that it's appearing in a newspaper considering how much the reverse narrative has been used in media reports.

The piece begins with an anecdote about how a doctor credits adult stem cells with playing a part in the recovery of one of his patients. It ends with the story of a wheelchair-bound man walking again. The nut:

For all the emotional debate that began about a decade ago on allowing the use of embryonic stem cells, it's adult stem cells that are in human testing today. An extensive review of stem cell projects and interviews with two dozen experts reveal a wide range of potential treatments.

Adult stem cells are being studied in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and diabetes. Some early results suggest stem cells can help some patients avoid leg amputation.

Apart from these efforts, transplants of adult stem cells have become a standard lifesaving therapy for perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases.

The article includes some religious discussion, briefly noting the objections the Catholic Church has with embryo destruction. Over the years there have been so many breathless reports about the potential in embryonic-destroying stem cell research. It would be nice to see some clearheaded updates on how things are going there as well as more detailed reports on the results -- and continued potential -- in stem cell research that does not involve the destruction of embryos. And at all times, of course, we could use more balanced discussions on the role religion plays in how society makes decisions about what to allow and what to discourage -- and why.

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