- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2001

Mark Pickup has suffered from multiple sclerosis for 17 years. Although he is incurably ill, he opposes using fetal stem cells to treat certain diseases, even though scientists say such a treatment might vastly improve his life.
Fetal stem cell research has been claimed by various scientists as effective treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS) and Parkinsons disease, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal cord injuries, even osteoporosis. For example, MS eats away at myelin, the protective coating of nerves. If cells can be triggered to regenerate myelin, then the nerve cells in adult MS sufferers could recover their protection.
About 50 stem cell transplants have been performed on people suffering from MS worldwide, Mr. Pickup says.
Dr. Margaret Sommerville, director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law in Montreal, has urged a moratorium on embryonic stem cell research to address moral and ethical dilemmas.
Mr. Pickup rejects this treatment possibility for himself because of his Christian beliefs, calling the question "a diabolical temptation."
"My faith demands something higher," he said. "If we are made in the image of God, then there are certain ways we must treat life and certain ways we must not treat life."
He attributes his perseverance to his deep-rooted faith, his wife and his two children.
"Had I not been loved so much, I might have opted for [assisted suicide]. The man that I used to be is as gone as surely as if I had died," Mr. Pickup said. "But my wife believed that my life had value at a point when I didnt believe it had much value."
On good days, Mr. Pickup, 48, uses a cane. For long distances, he rides a scooter. Now retired from the Canadian Civil Service, the resident of Beaumont, Alberta, writes from a home office, travels, and speaks out actively on the value of life in society.
He says terminally ill people are more likely to ask for physician-assisted suicide when they lack supportive love from family and the community.
"The North American culture has accepted the notion that there is life not worth living, that 'Its my life," Mr. Pickup says. "Theyre afraid of being engulfed with our anguish. Its much easier to live in a world that's beautiful. I know a lot of disabled people, and most of us are not crying for so-called 'death with dignity. We want life with dignity."
Dignity is a hard thing to come by with a disease that leads to diminished vision, speech and mobility; incontinence; sensation loss; spasticity; fatigue; and cerebral symptoms that dull ones ability to think and remember.
"I have suffered pain, and that is quite easily managed," Mr. Pickup says. "Suffering is quite a different thing. Suffering is the fear of being a burden, and thats more difficult to treat."
Which is why many disabled people wish to die, especially those with spinal cord injuries, said rehab counselor Walter Lawrence of British Columbia in a 1994 testimony to a Canadian Senate committee on euthanasia and assisted suicide.
"What I see in rehab is that 90 percent of all high lesion spinal cord injured persons want to commit suicide," he said. "After five years of living with a spinal cord injury, 5 percent contemplate suicide. It is a drastic turnaround."
Mr. Pickup, a Canadian, lobbies both the American and Canadian governments against fetal stem cell research, but most of his lobbying takes place in America because "many of the Canadian political process doors have been slammed," he says.
He advocates adult stem cell use, as does Richard Dorflinger, associate director of policy development in the Secretariate for Pro-Life Activities at the National Conference for Catholic Bishops.
"Many patients were told that fetal stem cells were the magic bullet for incurable disease, and there wasnt any research to back that [claim] up," Mr. Dorflinger said. "There still isnt.
"When placed in a part of the body, the adult stem cells respond to their surroundings and produce only the kind of tissue thats needed in that part of the body," he said. "The most promising treatments may lie in stimulating our own stem cells to do their natural job more effectively."

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