Actress Mary Tyler Moore this week movingly challenged a U.S. Senate subcommittee to do more in the struggle against juvenile diabetes. Ms. Moore suffers from juvenile diabetes and chairs the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's Children's Congress.
But another of Ms. Moore's charitable affiliations — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — is trying to block the type of research efforts she so desperately advocates and has even branded her own organization unworthy of financial backing for its support of biomedical research.
PETA, which has long enlisted Ms. Moore as a spokesperson, wants to end the use of laboratory animals in scientific and medical research.
This aim directly contradicts the recommendations of diabetes experts whose top priority articulated at the 1997 National Institutes of Health symposium, "Diabetes Mellitus: Challenges and Opportunities" was to "gain insights into diabetes disease processes through expansion of animal models and other systems and facilities."
If PETA succeeds, Ms. Moore's hopes for progress in the struggle against juvenile diabetes — as well as progress on many other major diseases — will be dimmed considerably.
Amidst the current controversy over stem cell research, Ms. Moore urged the Senate and Bush administration to support stem cell research.
Ms. Moore detailed to the Senators how researchers have successfully transplanted insulin producing islet cells into adults with juvenile diabetes, thereby restoring normal blood sugars. "Quite simply, these findings are the first, real evidence that a cure for juvenile diabetes is within our grasp," Ms. Moore testified.
One critical limitation on this progress, however, is the scarcity of islet cells for transplant. The only current sources of islet cells suitable for transplant are human pancreases from cadavers. But fewer than 2000 cadaver pancreases become available every year, providing islet cells to only a small fraction of diabetes patients that might benefit.
The islet cell supply problem might be eliminated if embryonic stem cells could be coaxed into becoming islet cells.
What has provided this glimmer of hope? Animal research.
In the words of Dr. Thomas Okarma, president of the biotechnology research firm Geron Corporation before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, "Studies in animals demonstrate that [stem cell research] could lead to cures and treatments for millions of Americans who suffer from diseases and disabilities such as diabetes, stroke, Parkinson disease, heart disease and spinal cord injury."
It's crystal clear succumbing to PETA's extreme brand of animal rights will make medical progress much more difficult if not greatly stymie it.
PETA's unreasonableness knows no bounds.
Last week, PETA assailed the March of Dimes for "squandering money on old style animal tests." PETA calls the March of Dimes the "March of Crimes" because the charity funds animal research in its quest to prevent birth defects.
PETA says "Both animals and human babies are the losers, because every dollar spent to harm ... animals is a dollar that could have and should have been used to help people."
But compare this rhetoric to reality.
The March of Dimes 2001 National Ambassador is a six year-old boy who was born four months premature. Because his lungs were severely underdeveloped, he was given surfactant therapy. Surfactant is a substance the body produces to help re-inflate the lungs after each breath. Premature babies often don't produce surfactant in sufficient quantity. Surfactant treatment was developed with March of Dimes' support.
The March of Dimes and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation are not the only biomedical research support organizations against which PETA is waging a boycott.
Believe it or not, PETA is also conspiring to sabotage much needed funding to groups as the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer's Association, American Heart Association, Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Research Foundation. At a time when science may be on the cusp of unparalleled medical breakthroughs, PETA is desperately trying to stifle medical progress.
Unfortunately, things may be looking up — or rather Democratic — for PETA and the other extremist animal rights groups.
Last fall, Senate Appropriations subcommittee chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., blocked legislation backed by animal rights groups that would have made medical research more expensive and bureaucratic by raising minimum care standards for laboratory rats and mice.
But now Democrats run the Senate. The animal-rights group Alternatives Research and Development Foundation says it has a better shot at getting the legislation through now that Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Herb Kohl has replaced Sen. Cochran.
Sen. Kohl can only say that he's keeping an open mind. "There's a lot of research activity that takes place that I would suppose is of great benefit of people..."
If the Sen. Kohl can only "suppose" there are benefits to animal research, then it appears that animal rights propaganda is succeeding.
I'm not too worried that Hollywood falls for PETA's propaganda. But I am concerned about powerful public officials getting sucked in.
Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of the upcoming book Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).
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