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Stem Cell Research and the Disability Community

  • Published: 2009-04-27 (Revised/Updated 2016-11-22) : Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Stem cell research and the potential effects it may have on the Disability Community.

Main Document

"I think that a parallel to spending massive amounts of money on stem cell research should be an equal amount of spending on programs that promote social inclusion of People with disabilities in society, as well as Disability Culture."

Recently, Ryan K. approached Disabled World concerning stem cell research and the potential effects it may have on the Disability Community. Ryan had read an article at Disabled World on the subject of Stem Cell Research and was interested in my opinion regarding any potential effects on the community.

Ryan has good reason to be interested in these issues, he has a family member; his father, who experiences partial paralysis of his spinal cord. Noting that President Obama has recently lifted the ban on stem cell research, Ryan is also interested in my point of view where potential benefits of this research are concerned.

The amount of information available on the Internet related to stem cell research continues to grow along with the debate over stem cell research. Articles from a variety of sources, to include Disabled World, are increasingly available. Many of these articles are technical in nature, although a number of articles are more commentary-based. The presence of these items, available for anyone with access to a computer and the capability to use it, can present some different issues.

One of these issues in relation to the disability community is accessing the articles themselves. While the information that is available may or may not be useful, if the information is not accessible through things such as screen readers and additional forms of adaptive software - it isn't useful to the disability community as a whole. Another issue that presents itself is the level of presentation of the material itself. Some of the articles contain medical jargon that is extremely difficult to comprehend if you do not have a degree in medicine related to the field. Still another issue regarding the articles and information available online about stem cell research involves the specific bias authors of the material may or may not have pertaining to the information.

There is an aura of debate surrounding stem cell research due to the sources from which stem cells are obtained. Right to Life supporters audibly fight against some forms of stem cell research; their writings reflect their beliefs. People who support stem cell research write articles and present information that is equally biased towards their views. When looking for information online about stem cell research, it is important to bear in mind the particular, 'bend,' that the writer is presenting the information from.

The research that is being done itself may end up being something that helps people in the disability community through medical treatments that, 'cure,' people of things such as paralysis, diabetes, traumatic injuries, and other disabilities. The stem cells that are used may not only come from fetal tissues; they may also come from other sources such as stem cells from teeth, nasal passages, or bone marrow; from what I understand. If the research being done does make these things possible, and if this is what people want, it is my opinion that stem cell research could be something that changes the disability community forever.

There is a perception in America of Persons with disabilities as people who experience medical conditions, rather than one of people who are a part of a culture, or members of various cultures. Part of the reason for this is lack of awareness and acceptance within the academic community. The medical field has developed throughout history as one of treating people who experience illness and therefore require treatment. People with disabilities; perceived as being ill, therefore must require treatment - at least from common perception in America.

My opinion is that People with disabilities belong to the various Disability Cultures of which they are a part and participate in. Medical care is something that everyone needs; disabled and non-disabled alike. Stem cell research has the potential to destroy many Disability Cultures through presentation of the option to, 'cure,' people of their very culture. It is my opinion that while stem cell research may one day, 'cure,' people of things such as paralysis and additional disabling conditions; it will also destroy a number of cultures that have contributed some magnificent things to society.

I think that a parallel to spending massive amounts of money on stem cell research should be an equal amount of spending on programs that promote social inclusion of People with disabilities in society, as well as Disability Culture. My, 'bend,' or, 'bias,' if you will, is that there needs to be a change from the current Medical Model of disability in America to a Social Model of disability. The Social Model of disability that I would like to find in this nation would include an academic structure that promotes studies of Disability History and Culture throughout schools and universities, raising awareness about Persons with disabilities in America.

In my opinion, accessibility and firm establishment of a Social Model of disability are far more important subjects to be pursued in the world than stem cell research will ever be. Rather than pursuing the wholesale destruction of Disability Cultures, promotion of equal rights regarding Persons with disabilities is much more worthwhile; again, in my opinion. The research surrounding stem cells and the Disability Community is something geared towards the Medical Model of disability, perceptions of, 'normalcy,' and perspectives on the parts of non-disabled persons of, 'thin, young, healthy, and strong.' I find myself unable to support stem cell research for these reasons, even though this research may one day, 'cure,' the very diabetes and osteoarthritis I experience. Until America begins supporting People with disabilities with equal fervor through the social efforts I have described, it will remain my opinion that stem cell research is receiving too much attention.

References: The definition of a stem cell

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