Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Reverend’s stem cell support is personal

Brother-in-law’s journey convinces her that research will save lives

December 25, 2005


When the Rev. Kathy Neufeld Dunn signed on as a member of a statewide coalition supporting stem cell research, her thoughts were of her brother-in-law.

Two years ago, her brother-in-law, a former central Kansas and Colorado firefighter, traveled to Beijing to have experimental stem cell implant surgery. He hoped the surgery - illegal in the United States - would help him battle amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

The surgery, done by a Chinese physician who was trained in the U.S. and recognized for his work in stem cell surgery, implanted fetal tissue in the brain in an effort to regrow cells and neurological tissue, Dunn said.

The surgeon, Dr. Huang Hongyum, had performed similar surgeries involving spinal injuries, but the application for ALS was new, said Dunn, interim minister of Lawrence's Peace Mennonite Church.

"Unfortunately my brother-in-law had no results," she said. "He said that even if it does nothing for him it was vitally important for him to be a part of this research so that others may benefit from it."

Dunn is now one of nearly 300 people who have become members of the Kansas Coalition for Lifesaving Cures. In addition to her brother-in-law, Dunn said she knew many others who had diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease who might benefit from more stem cell research.

"I think it is just crucial to allow that sort of research to go forward without so many restrictions," she said.

"I think it is just crucial to allow that sort of research to go forward without so many restrictions." -  The Rev. Kathy Neufeld Dunn

"I think it is just crucial to allow that sort of research to go forward without so many restrictions." - The Rev. Kathy Neufeld Dunn

Gearing for a fight

The Kansas coalition was incorporated in August primarily to combat the passage of a bill in the Kansas Legislature that coalition members say would essentially ban all stem cell research, including research now legal under federal law and make it a felony in Kansas. The coalition also thinks that the bill could be interpreted as making it illegal for someone to seek stem cell treatments outside the state. House bill 2355 was introduced during last year's session by Rep. Mary Pilcher Cook, R-Shawnee. Last year the bill never got out of committee to face a floor debate.

The coalition does not support human cloning.

Lori Hutfles is the coalition's executive director. She works out of a downtown Lawrence office suite.

Hutfles works with a steering committee in guiding the coalition's efforts. She declined to identify who is on the committee.

"There's a group of people that have been aware of this issue since it was introduced last year," Hutfles said. "HB2355 brought to everyone's attention that there needed to be an advocacy group for stem cell research."

The coalition's Web site,, lists its "notable members," as well as business and medical organizations. One organization, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, represents many more medical organizations.

The long list of "notable individuals" on the Web site includes many with Kansas University connections, including Chancellor Robert Hemenway, Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor for KU's Medical Center; and David Adkins, the medical center's vice chancellor for external affairs. Other names include Kansas Board of Regents member Dick Bond; Rochelle Chronister, former secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services; and Henry Bloch, honorary chairman of H&R; Block Inc.

Grassroots effort

The coalition has hired a lobbying firm, Kansas Governmental Consulting, headed by John Peterson, to represent its interests in the Legislature. In addition, Hutfles has appeared before community, business and church groups as well as at senior centers to talk about the coalition and its stance. Some appearances have been in Lawrence. It's a two-pronged approach.

"It's just grassroots coalition-building across the state," Hutfles said. "What we find is that the more people are educated about stem cell research the more positive feelings they have toward stem cell research in general."

Pilcher Cook's explanation of her bill and her stance on stem cell research is stated in detail on her Web site, She argues that while research on adult stem cells holds promise, there has been no "successful human study with embryonic stem cells." The extraction or harvesting of stem cells from the embryo destroys a human life, she says.

Pilcher Cook also says that embryonic stem cell research can include human cloning through somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT. She says SCNT is overhyped as a possible solution to curing many diseases. Adult stem cell research is showing more promise, she says.

The Kansas coalition, however, argues that all types of stem cell research should be allowed in an effort to find cures for diseases, while at the same time agreeing that cloning humans should be banned. Unlike adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells have the potential to turn into any cell in the human body.

There are two types of embryo stem cells. One is SCNT, which uses a person's own cells and an empty, donated human egg to make embryo stem cells. The other is from in vitro fertilization at fertility clinics that would otherwise be discarded or destroyed, the coalition says.

Dunn said she understood how some people might be wary of stem cell research but thought it should go on.

"We do need to look seriously at the ethics of it," she said. "I think it would be a good idea to have ethicists working with researchers hand-in-hand so then we can do this research in appropriate ways."

Keeping HB2355 from becoming law is the only goal of the coalition, Hutfles said. If HB2355 is kept off the debate floor again this year, coalition members will decide then if it is necessary to continue their efforts.

Stem cell Web sites

Here are Web sites with more information about stem cells, the Kansas Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, Mary Pilcher Cook and House bill 2355. ¢ ¢ ¢ ¢


Ember 11 years, 12 months ago

Ya know, as grotesque as it might sound, I am forcibly reminded of Nazi Germany, and more directly, the concentration camps.

The conditions there were horrific, not to mention the way that the people imprisoned there were treated, but out of that much insanity, some good still came from it.

Dozens of advances in modern medicine came out of those hell holes, and millions of lives have been saved becaue of them. Minor discoveries led to massive jumps in dental procedures and sterilization processes. Viruses were better understood.

Organ transplants were first directly studied there in any massive amounts.

Makes the skin almost crawl to think of it, but it is true.

Stem cell research, while sounding fairly ghoulish, holds amazing promise. It has the potential for curing several mental problems, from strokes to Parkinson's. Growing entire organs, fresh and vital, would save millions of lives worldwide.

Stem cell research is quite possibly one of the most promising medical advances in the last century, surpassing even heart transplants and the polio vaccine.

With enough research, it might even be able to provide at least a temporary stay for terminally ill cancer patients and maybe even a viable cure for AIDS, not just drugs to try and hold it in check for a few years.

The old phrase about needs, many and few, at least in this instance, should be reverse.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few.

Jeff Barclay 11 years, 12 months ago

So long as no babies are ever conceived and destroyed to provide donor stem cells... To do this is the height of self-centered, human arrogance.

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 12 months ago

What's the old saying, "A conservative is a liberal who got mugged"?

I think we can update this to "A liberal is a conservative who suffers a debilitating disease".

This story and many others (e.g. Nancy Reagan and Arlen Specter) demonstrate that the political is at its root the personal.

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 12 months ago


I think it is a bit of an urban myth that the Nazis' activities led to medical breakthroughs.

Let's face it, many Nazi "professionals" were not prosecuted or pursued after the war because they were considered necessary to rebuild German society (similar to Bush recently welcoming Baathists back to the Iraqi government and society).

They had to have some excuse to justify their monstrous behavior, and they came up with this one.

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 12 months ago

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the scientific and medical breakthroughs of the mid and late 20th century came about by great increases in private and federal funding of basic scientific research (NASA, Defense, NIH, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to name a few).

Ember 11 years, 12 months ago

Readings concerning Nazi medicine and the euthanasia project:

5 of these titles have very little to do with the euthenasia topic, but instead the other medical procedures that were discovered in the concentration camps, as well as in normal German hospitals.

To measure the limits of the human body, the Nazi physicians subjected concentration-camp inmates to high-altitude experiments, confining them in low-pressure chambers until their lungs exploded.

To discover the most effective way of rewarding German pilots who had been downed in the North Sea, they immersed prisoners in tanks of freezing water for hours, lowering their body temperatures to 26 degrees.

To gain specimens for their Jewish skeleton collection, the Nazi physicians murdered and stripped the flesh from 100 Jewish prisoners.

To compare the effectiveness of vaccines, they injected inmates with malaria, typhus,smallpox, cholera, and spotted fever.

They physician broke their subjects' bones and then infected the wounds, fed them sea water until they had seizures and suffered cardiac arrest, operated on them with out anesthesia.

Some bodies were dissected, and their brains sent to research institutes, where scientists tried to determine the physical causes of mental illness.

Nazi doctors gave the following arguments in their defense: "involuntary research on prisoners had a long history, prisoners were already sentenced to death, they were only following orders, there were no clear international ethics standards respecting research, the toleration of a lesser evil to tolerate a greater good, those who did not participate might have been killed"

How about a list of Nazi doctors and their fields of work within the Reich?

Here's a partial list of the medical actions performed in Nazi Germany: sterilization, hypothermia, high altitude pressure, sea water injections, bone-grafting, cancer, mustard gas, artificial insemination, abortion and many diseases such as, typhus, malaria, hepatitis, influenza, spotted fever and yellow fever.

But I will most likely be told that I made all of this up. All of this can be found in any true history book, not the political machinations that pass for history books these days.

Not my problem if you do not wish to face the truth of medicine in the face. Some people prefer to remain blind to the world around them. At first, I didn't believe that this could be the truth, but after researching the issue extensively, I found it to be true.

Denying that there is a hole is the ground in front of you will not spare you the pain of impacting with the bottom of said hole if you walk into it.

lunacydetector 11 years, 12 months ago

there is not one instance that fetal stem cells have cured anyone. adult stem cells on the other hand, have been effective in treatments.

use of fetal stem cells is very similar to nazi germany experimenting on prisoners. to say otherwise is ignorant.

in a selfish, self serving and greedy society, other than the coming widespread euthanasia, what else can we expect will occur in the future? judgement day?

Ember 11 years, 12 months ago

Okay, one last try here, then I am giving up.

Modern medicine, for all of it's advances, is NOT curing cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cystic fibrosis, or anything else, for that matter. Polio didn't get a chance to adapt to the vaccine before it was basically eradicated.

Chemical therapies only go so far.

We can't use stem cells from a person with Parkinson's to cure Parkinson's. That's like using kerosene to put out a forest fire. It's just not going to work.

We can either let these diseases run rampant for the rest of our existence, or we take a big step and go with a new theory. Fetal stem cells can become anything. A liver, heart or brain. Simply because you balk at the thought does not mean that the research should just end right here and now.

There is too much potential gain from stem cell research to stop now.

What if they only used miscarried fetus? Would you be against it then?

Why or why not? It's the same thing in the end, with the only exception being that the host body rejected the fetus. That's really about it.

You have to break eggs to make a good omlete. Just setting the egg in the frying pan accomplishes nothing. The potential is there, and we have the technology to start taking advantage of it.

Here's a good scenario for you.

Let's say the year is 2015, and stem cell research has continued to the point that it is proven.

Your child is diagnosed with a genetic disease than can be cured by stem cell applications.

Would you condemn your child to death because of your beliefs?

That's basically what you are doing now by standing against stem cell research. You are potentially condemning people, adults and children, to death.

And I don't really care if it offends your fragile sensibilities to being called a murderer. If you don't like being kicked in the shins, perhaps you shouldn't take a stand somewhere that you can be kicked.

Ember 11 years, 11 months ago

Wendt, Mengele did some of the first research into the viability of transplanting organs between identical twins. Before then, not even the likes of Harvard, Yale and Oxford would attempt the procedure becuase it was considered to be improbable.

He did quite a few other experiments involing blood transfusions, and noting the reactions. Gave us the first hint of actual cross matching blood types. Granted, it wasn't the original use, but then again, splitting the atom was never meant to level most of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

The webpages that I posted are meant as research launch points to narrow down what you are looking for. Is there some kind of law that I am unaware of that states a philosophy professor cannot present historical fact on a webpage?

The brass tax of the issue is that while the concentration camps were horrific on levels previously unheard of, good did come of them. I don't know if I would trade the millions of lives lost there for the knowledge that was gained, though. Tens of millions of lives have been improved by that knowledge, no matter how vile the circumstances surround it's discovery was.

Just the malaria virus, and the vaccine for it, alone has caused how many millions of deaths? Typhoid? Scarlet fever? Influenza?

Are you telling me that it's not knowledge is not worth the cost? Tell that to someone who's life was saved by the vaccine. Or better yet, their mom, dad, son or daughter. Tell them that you would rather they had died than have the knowledge gained in such a detestable manner.

That it happened is an atrocity.

That anything good came of it is a miracle.

DuQuesne 11 years, 11 months ago

Stem cell research will proceed with or without government approval or funding. Government resistance will evaporate as soon as a quorum of senators on the right committee personally experience the benefits resulting from such research. Cloning research will advance sufficiently in the next VERY FEW years that we will wonder what we were arguing about, back in '05.

I would, however, like to know how many of those objecting to research with only "certain" stem cells are the same ones who would allow abortion if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

-Schuyler DuQuesne

Ember 11 years, 11 months ago

Now let me get this straight, before I start with anything else.

Last I knew, scientific research, regardless of the field, required the observation of a subject being introduced with a variable. This interaction is then monitored, recorded and repeated, and in some cases quite frequently.

This is how I was taught in Chemistry, Advanced Chemistry, Physics, Advanced Physics, and Biology in high school. There seemed to be a constant theme of observing, recording and reperforming the experiment to verify that it was not a fluke but was the actual facts of the situation.

Mixing equal parts of bleach and ammonia in water will always produce phosgene gas, the amounts produced being directly proportional to the amounts of bleach and ammonia used.

That is scientific observation, correct?

The following questions are yes or no answers, so please attempt to refrain from extrapolation or side stepping the question.

1.) Did the doctors working in Nazi Germany routinely inject foreign bodies into living subjects, namely humans, to observe the reaction to these injected substances?

Psst, the answer is yes.

2.) Did these same doctors record these observations, and attempt to recreate them more than the single time?

Psst, again, the answer is yes.

The simple proof of this can be found within the archives of the Nuremburg Trials, at which time the notes these doctors kept were subsequently used against them as evidence that they perpetrated such atrocities. This is a fact of history. Several of the more prominent doctors were executed based on their notes more than any testimony given, since, by legal definition, the witness testimony was both prejudicial in nature and heresay, since none of the procedures were witnessed by more than the attending nurses and the deceased. This I learned in history class when we studied WWII.

The use of these notes directly proves that not only were these experiments conducted, they were conducted quite regularly for almost a decade. They just weren't conducted within the confines of the concentration camps exclusively. The eugenics programs began shortly after Hitler came to power and began his purification process of the German people. That was the stepping stone, so to speak, for the other experiments.

Seized documents that have recently been released by the Russian government and those within the C.I.S. prove without a doubt that Hitler was expecting to be invading China by the time the war actually ended. Knowledge of malaria, typhoid and other diseases was widespread, but there were few truly effective cures.

Ember 11 years, 11 months ago

Now then, on to some of the other points you have raised.

Medical research is done on cadavers, to an extent. It is not, however, exclusive to the dead. It is physically impossible to observe how human tissue reacts to a given substance if that tissue is no longer alive.

To claim otherwise is to claim that I have absolutely no intelligence nor capacity to reason, or even think. But I am hoping you were not implying this. I would hate to think that you would be so judgemental.

Let's take your Butthead example and explore the actual reality of the scenario you describe. We'll start with some basic questions.

Does 'Butthead' have any direct knowledge of animal physiology?

Does 'Butthead' have any indirect knowledge of animal physiology?

Does he possess any actual curiosity of how his actions will affect the turtle?

Does he want to observe how the animal will react to a given stimulus?

Answering yes on the last question invalidates your scenario because that implies, either directly or indirectly, that 'Butthead' is in fact conducting an experiment, and thus, is scientifically observing the turtle's reactions.

His motives behind his actions are morally reprehensible, but that should not detract from the fact that he is in fact conforming to the same guidelines as a funded researcher experienting with a new drug to counteract the effects of AIDS.

Ember 11 years, 11 months ago

Now, for the record.

As a statesman and politician, I do consider Hitler to be among the most brilliant to have lived.

As a human being, I find him to be a crack-job meglomaniac with a God complex.

What he did for Germany, especially prior to the start of the war, is nothing less than amazing. The year before Hitler took office, Germany had a recorded 30% unemployment rate. By the end of WWII, Germany had a shortage of workers, and that included the enforced slave labor at several of the concentration camps.

Are you telling me that accomplishing just that was commonplace?

Hitler created a cohesive army the likes of which the world had never seen and still has not seen since. His ego is the main reason that the world is not speaking German as a first language. Had roughly half of his army not been entrenched in Russia at the time, military historians and experts state that the invasion at Normandy would have been one of the greatest defeats in the history of human conflict.

The beaches were fortified to the point that it took a concentrated barrage of naval firepower several days to produce so much as the tiniest crack in that wall of firepower. As it was, tens of thousands died on those beaches. Imagine if Hitler hadn't attempted to invade Russia shortly before the Allies lauched D-Day. Tens would have become hundreds in half the time it took to capture the beachheads.

His military tactics are still legendary. The concept of the blitzkreig has been adopted, in one form or another, into every standing army in today's world.

Hitler was far from being the idiot he has been portrayed as being.

Attempting to bait me with allusions as to me having sympathies for his machinations should be beneath you, but apparently they are not.

I don't believe in a 'Master race', the Aryan nation, or even white supremacy. I think they are misbegotten ideals clung to by low rent rednecks who find it neccessary to blame their own shortcomings, be they financial, social or any other reasoning, on people who have done nothing to them to create the situation in which they find themselves.

Injecting invectives into an argument not only detracts from the worthiness of the topic being discussed but also casts a shadow on the ability of the person utilizing such 'tactics'. to present a reasoned, intelligent thought.

I was more than willing to debate this with you until my fingers broke in half and fell clear off my hands until you decided to subtly weave invectives and slurs into your arguments.

That is the type of actions people the likes of Fred Phelps uses. I am saddened, yet again, that what began as a fine discussion degraded to that level of incompetance in debating and discussion.

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