Last night I watched the movie “Me Before You”. It’s about a man who is quadriplegic after an accident with a scooter. Long story short, he decides he doesn’t want to live any longer with the limitations and pain he endures and …………….(spoiler alert) ……………………………ends his life.
The movie brings attention to the issues of assisted suicide, personal relationships and quality of life. It also begs the question of why on Earth is anybody still having to endure, long term, the medical issues of paraplegia or quadriplegia? By this I don’t mean why doesn’t everybody with paraplegia or quadriplegia kill themselves. I do mean that in cases in which a person’s spinal cord is severed in an accident, why aren’t we using the therapies that are known to result in the body healing this damage?
Although I’ve heard of others, for example, one involving the use of white blood cells that must be performed within a short time frame after the injury, what I am mainly referring to is stem cell therapy to facilitate healing of the spinal cord. Why isn’t this being performed regularly?
I have seen an excellent video of a mouse who had it’s spinal cord severed, and even after a period of time during which it experienced atrophy in the affected limbs, it was able to regain use of the affected limbs after a stem cell transplant. I just checked online and I was unable to locate that video (??). Where did it go? But mice aren’t people, right?
Remember Christopher Reeve? He played Superman in movies a couple decades or so ago. He suffered a spinal cord injury and spent years as a quadriplegic. During this time he became active as an advocate for issues relating to spinal cord injuries. Stem cell therapy is one issue he was involved with. I just looked at the Wikipedia article about him and it cites his work to get stem cell research funded. Research is a necessary prerequisite to treatment, however, research is not treatment. Why even mention this obvious truth? More on that later.
Shortly after his death I read an article in “Readers Digest” about a woman in South Korea that had suffered a spinal cord injury many years ago and who had recently received stem cell therapy. She was, according to the article, recovering use of the affected limbs. It was around 2004 when I read this article, it was a recent article at the time. I thought it poignant that this article should appear so shortly after Christopher Reeve’s death. It brought to mind the question of why didn’t he ever receive stem cell therapy?
What are the problems with stem cell therapy? Why isn’t it being used? When stem cell therapy first began receiving widespread coverage in the mainstream press, to my recollection, it was immediately coupled with the issue of having to use stem cells from aborted babies. So, essentially, stem cell therapy was given a “black eye” right out of the gate. Dead babies? If we open the door to stem cell therapy we’re going to be up to our eyeballs in aborted fetuses, right? Women will be selling their unborn babies so rich folks can have stem cell therapy, right? Women might even be getting pregnant just to have a fetus to abort and sell. Horrible, but not an unthinkable scenario. And the media saw to it we were all thinking it. Stem cell therapy was cast in the roll of the therapy from hell: avoid it at all costs.
Stem cell therapy isn’t the only potential treatment to undergo this type of demonization. How many decades did “Reefer Madness”, and other misinformation define the public perception of marijuana? (And still does in some places.)
However, during the 1990’s there was another, infinitely less, publicized event taking place in the State of Washington, U.S.A. A company named CellPro, in Bothell, Washington, was working on a method of extracting stem cells from an adult human body that could be used by the person they were extracted from for stem cell therapy. Pretty anti-climatic in comparison to being led to believe stem cell therapy would lead to the gates of hell being greased with the bodies of dead fetuses. From the point of view of selling news with sensationalism, I can see why the CellPro story might not be appealing to the marketing folk down at the press. But is that the only reason most people in the world have never heard of CellPro nor their success? That’s right, success.
During the 1990’s, CellPro successfully developed a method of extracting stem cells from an adult human being that can be used by that person for stem cell therapies. No chance of rejection, no lifetime of anti-rejection medications, and maybe that touches on why it received so little publicity (?). CellPro’s relatively inexpensive method was successfully used to save one life, one. A case involving cancer. Did I mention it was planned to be relatively inexpensive, around $10,000 at the time? Again I find myself asking: is that touching on why most people in the world have never heard of CellPro? If you want to know what happened to this company and the blessing they were getting ready to unleash on the human race, there is a book about it. The person who’s life was saved wrote a book.
He was the CEO of CellPro. The book is: “Patient Number One”, by Rick Murdock and David Fisher. If you’re interested in learning more about the convoluted interrelationship between medicine, big business, government, and the people affected by it, I recommend this book. It’s not an easy read, but it’s worth it.
Again, long story short, CellPro was, in effect, shut down by a U.S. District Court judge. At the very least the judge’s ruling made sure the words “relatively inexpensive” would no longer be applicable. The reality turned out to be that, in effect, CellPro’s fate was sealed. That was a U.S. District Court protecting us…from what? Good health care?
As I mentioned above, medical research is not medical treatment. Obvious? Should be, but the reality in the U.S. has to give one pause. In an article updated in 2005 on NBC News.com, the amount spent on medical research, each year, in the U.S. was 95 billion (with a “B”) dollars. What should we be expecting for 95 billion dollars a year? Are we getting it? There can be no doubt that there is BIG money in medical research. How about cures? Maybe not so much? Look what happened to CellPro with their relatively inexpensive method of procuring transplantable stem cells. What’s that about? The fact is medical research is often touted as if it were treatment. It’s not.
There are a significant number of people, and I would say an increasing number of people, in the U.S. and elsewhere that suspect treatments which would actually cure various diseases are, when discovered, buried, kept secret, in order not to jeopardize the multi-billion dollar medical research industry. The case of CellPro definitely pushes this notion a step away from the realm of conspiracy theory and into the realm of conspiracy fact.
The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation has a website which gives estimated costs for individuals living with a spinal cord injury. The least figure they give is for “Incomplete motor function (any level)”. Those costs are given as: $347,484 the first year and $42,206 every year thereafter. The lifetime estimated costs for someone in this category who experiences the injury at 25 years of age, are given as: $1,578,274. From there, as they get into the costs of paraplegia and other more profound loss of ability, the costs, as one would expect, go up. A lot.
Compare this with the costs of one time stem cell transplant with no ongoing anti-rejection medication needed. Tripling what, in the 1990’s, CellPro estimated would be their costs in obtaining the needed stem cells, from your own body, would put that cost at around $30,000. Then there would be the cost of the implant itself, an injection. If we think extortionate costs for that procedure, that might be around $100.000. Even at extortionate pricing it doesn’t come close to the estimated costs for a lifetime of medication, medical devices, ongoing medical evaluation, caregivers and whatever else would enter in. But what does that have to do with anything?
Is the system of medical care in the U.S. and the treatments employed the best in the world? Let’s hope not. I’m sure most of the medical industry’s P.R. folks would use descriptors like: excellent, stellar, state of the art, etc. It seems some of these treatments might be more accurately portrayed as: the costliest we have, obsolete, ineffective, barbaric. I’m sure there are a lot of good doctors in the U.S., thank goodness. However, when even good doctors are at the mercy of a larger, institutionalized, business oriented medical system, well, sometimes their hands are figuratively tied. Extravagant malpractice suits are the sword of Damocles hanging over the head of each and every physician in the U.S. Sometimes the malpractice suits even make the extortionate pricing too often used by hospitals, clinics and other providers look trivial.
By designing/allowing extravagant malpractice suits into the bigger picture of the healthcare system those controlling the system gave themselves a ” big stick” with which to threaten recalcitrant physicians.
The stem cell issue is just one of many treatment issues which have plagued our medical system over the past few decades. The healthcare system in the U.S. has developed a track record of giving highly preferential treatment to those treatments marketed by big, wealthy corporations. Pharmaceuticals immediately come to mind.
Some of the treatments which are either hard to obtain, largely ignored or actively lobbied against, even made illegal at some point if they still aren’t, include: marijuana, stem cell therapy, neurofeedback, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and various cancer treatments offered in other countries but banned in the U.S. I’m sure there are more.
The point is this: Our healthcare system needs to be primarily and uncompromisingly dedicated to supporting and sustaining good health for all people. Right now it is severely compromised by individuals who are using the importance of health and healthcare to contaminate our healthcare system with, what amount to, various avenues and degrees of extortion in a sociopathic pursuit of inordinate wealth.