Two years ago, on October 22, 2008, my world turned upside down. My son wrecked his car on his way home from football practice at Mill Creek High School. He was lifeflighted to Grady Hospital with serious injuries including a broken spine, broken orbital bone, broken jaw, broken nose, pulmonary contusions and numerous lacerations to his head and face. His spinal cord was severely damaged leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

After a week in intensive care, he was transferred to Shepherd Spinal Center to begin his rehabilitation – to learn how to live his life in a wheelchair.

There is not enough space in this entire paper to explain the harsh realities of living with a spinal cord injury. I am very fortunate in that I have a wonderful, brave son who continues to amaze me each and every day with his perseverance in the face of adversity.

Less than two months after being released from the hospital, my son began his career as a wheelchair athlete. After a very successful track season his junior year, he competed in wheelchair basketball, handball and track his senior year. His team made it to the state championship in basketball and he is the reigning high school state champion in wheelchair shot put and the 800m and 200m wheelchair races. Currently, he is a freshman at the University of Georgia majoring in education.

He knows more about turning lemons into lemonade than anyone I know. Still, his life is difficult.

Last week at Shepherd Spinal Center, the hospital where my son spent nearly a month recuperating, a clinical trial began which holds the promise of a cure for him and the 250,000 other Americans currently living with a spinal cord injury. The problem is that the cure will not be possible without politically controversial stem cell research.

For years, scientists have theorized that stem cell research could lead to treatments, and potentially cures, for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a host of other medical conditions including paralysis.

It is truly a shame there are politicians who would seek to stop or slow this scientific progress to earn an endorsement from a right to life group or some other conservative political entity.

Political opponents to this technology liken stem cell research to abortion and categorize the embryos from which the stem cells are obtained as living beings. The truth of the matter is that the majority of stem cells, including the ones used in the Shepherd Center trial, are taken from embryos slated for destruction. The question of whether or not life begins at conception is irrelevant under these circumstances because the question of life or death has already been decided.

Thankfully, there are plenty of Americans who see the merit in pursuing this technology and are willing to let practical concerns take precedence over political ideology.

Certainly circumstances could exist where stem cell research would be highly unethical, but I see absolutely nothing wrong with using discarded embryos for scientific experimentation or pursuing research using existing stem cell lines. In fact, I think it would be wrong to allow the embryos to be discarded when they could be used to help so many people.

Former President George W. Bush understood the scientific importance of this research even though he struggled with the moral and ethical considerations during his presidency.

“Many people are finding that the more they know about stem cell research, the less certain they are about the right ethical and moral conclusions,” he said in a 2001 speech.

As conservative as Bush was, he was practical and realistic enough to appreciate the significance and potential impact of this research. He supported federal funding for 60 existing lines of stem cells. He also supported “aggressive federal funding of research on umbilical cord, placenta, adult and animal stem cells.”

Balancing political ideology and science may not always be easy, but I hope the people we elect in November are able to do just that as we stand on the verge of major scientific breakthroughs using stem cell research.

Will we as a nation turn our back on medical technology that could save or improve the lives of millions of people? I certainly hope not.

I hope we will be guided as Bush said by “by both intellect and heart, by both our capabilities and our conscience.”

Kristi Reed is a reporter for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at kreed@barrowjournal.com.

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