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A new medium, a new message
November 2010
by Amy Swinderman  |  Email the author
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Controversy is a curious thing, especially when you throw today's communication technology into the mix. Everybody has an opinion about everything, and takes to a keyboard to share it with the world. This can make for a cluttered atmosphere and a confusing media message. One often has to trudge through a lot of garbage and misplaced frustration before finding both a news story, and interesting analysis from people who are informed enough to interpret the story's potential impact. This month, ddn brings you both of these hard-to-find items.
 
When I set out to cover the Sherley, et al., v. Sebelius, et al., case challenging federal funding for embryonic stem cell (eSC) research, I cleared my calendar for at least three days. From our past coverage of President Barack Obama's lifting of the previous administration's ban on federal funding for eSC research, and exploration of both sides of the contentious debate, I knew I should be prepared for an onslaught of "stuff."
 
A cursory expedition for information led to a deluge of information (some of it accurate, some of it not) and opinion (some it angry, some of it really angry).  
 
Drawing from my past experience as a legal reporter, I knew I had to do what any good reporter should do, which is get to the core of the story. Shutting out all other "noise," I located the court documents for the case and started reading. To my great surprise, I learned that the lead plaintiffs in the case were not "right-wing nut-jobs" or "rogue pro-lifers," as many media reports suggested, but two researchers who have serious concerns about the potential of eSC research, and the impact that increased funding for eSC projects will have on other types of research. To my even greater surprise, I learned that the researchers—Dr. James L. Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Dr. Theresa Deisher, research and development director at AVM Biotechnology LLC in Seattle—aren't against stem cell research altogether, as some mainstream media reports have suggested. They both engage in stem cell research using adult stem cells, a field they claim will suffer if more federal dollars are filtered to researchers who wish to use eSCs.  
 
That the crux of the lawsuit centered on this argument, and whether Obama's 2009 order violates the Dickey-Wicker amendment, a 1995 law prohibiting the government from appropriating funds for research that involves the creation or destruction of human embryos for research purposes, surprised me, given the highly polarized reports I'd seen about the case.
 
You may be surprised to read the facts of the case, too, and you can do so starting with our cover story, which continues in our Government Watch section. And you might be as surprised as I was to find that both Sherley and Deisher, who declined many media interviews once the case came to light, were willing to speak candidly with me, not about the pending litigation, but about their feelings toward eSC research.
 
Both scientists impressed me with their willingness to openly discuss their beliefs, but only a small portion of their interviews appear in the story, which chiefly concerns the arguments in the case. However, we believe the story deserves more ink, so this month, we're taking to our new blog, http://ddnonline.wordpress.com/, to get up close and personal with the people at the center of this reignited debate.  
 
We started the blog in late August to give us the opportunity to bring you a "behind-the-scenes" look at some of the important stories we cover—and give you, the reader, a chance to comment and interact with other readers.  
 
"It's another tool for us, and a necessary one in this increasingly e-connected age," says ddn Associate Publisher Laurence Doyle. "Ultimately, what we hope to create is a place where we can stimulate discussion. Even as an extension of our website and e-newsletter efforts, it is a promising tool, but if it can be a place to share ideas and opinions, that will be a very rich addition to our news coverage."  
 
This month, you can read a Q&A with Sherley and Deisher on our blog. Deisher, in particular, was gracious enough to discuss how she believes her Catholic faith impacts her work: "My faith enhances my work," she says. "My Christian faith calls me to focus on drugs and treatments that are affordable so that the greatest number of people will benefit. My faith calls me to use reason and the order of natural law to determine, for instance, the stem cell most optimal for clinical use. My faith calls me to focus only on those treatments that will be effective. My faith also calls me to respect the intrinsic dignity of human life in my work."
 
If you're interested in seeing more on this controversial issue, getting to the facts of the case and discussing it with other members of our audience, we invite you to check out our blog. We look forward to "talking" to you!
 
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