In contrast to treatment derived from human stem cells, dog stem cell therapy is off and running, with more than 300 dogs having received paw-raising pain relief from arthritis through the breakthrough therapy since 2003. Why is medical treatment in the canine kingdom apparently pacing ahead of that among our own species, at least as far as stem cells are concerned? Is it because we assume dogs have no moral judgment, so we’ve overridden their opportunity to have the ethics debate we’re having about stem cells and run merrily ahead, tails wagging, to heedlessly reap science’s rich rewards without a twinge of guilt? Have humans agonized over their own morally murky medical prospects just to tell Sparky, once he’s in the same boat, to head straight to “Go” and collect $200?
The short answer is no. To begin with, the stem cell therapy now so successful in curtailing joint pain in dogs is autologous. In other words, it’s the uncontroversial kind, not controversial because the stem cells employing their regenerative power in the name of pain relief are taken from the dog’s own fat, not a foreign embryo or aborted fetus. Autologous stem cell transplants are currently performed in human leukemia patients with about a 60 percent success rate. But, alas, for those millions of (human) arthritis sufferers, stem cell therapy has yet to trickle down from the labs of veterinarians to those of exclusively human doctors.
I admit to having my suspicions that the intense debate over that other kind of stem cell therapy has slowed the development of further autologous procedures in humans. Be that as it may, given Sparky’s all-too-evident new lease on life thanks to that super-nifty stem cell injection, (that just might have been the thousandth time he chased Fluffy over the fence today, and with what bracing speed!), I think we’re altogether too envious of a species to let our four-legged friends have all the fun. And why should we? Science is on our side––and we can enjoy its fruits while being as unbothered in matters of morality as Fido himself, lazily letting our own cells do the healing.