I Feel Cheated, but I’m Not Sure I Was

So yesterday, I read an article on Inquirer.net about former Philippine President Joseph Estrada defying age through stem cell therapy. The exact title is “Joseph Estrada defies age, shares how he did it: Stem cell therapy.” Having had a background in life science, I read the article, skipping to the section about the treatment. Here’s what it said:

At the prodding of friends, the 75-year-old Estrada flew to Frankfurt, Germany, last month to undergo fresh cell therapy (also known as stem cell treatment), an innovative albeit controversial procedure where fresh cells from donor animals are injected into the human body to treat diseases or reverse the aging process.

Fresh cell therapy operates under the principle of “like heals like.”

The fresh cells from a donor animal’s organ are infused into the human counterpart.

… Estrada said he received 14 shots of blood from unborn sheep in his buttocks during the visit.

I was confused. In all the time I learned about human stem cell treatments, I was aware of only two types: autologous and allogeneic stem cell transplants. Basically, one involves stem cells taken from the injured person himself, and the other involves stem cells derived from another person. Both procedures involve putting human stem cells in an injured or diseased human.

But here, we have an article referring to fresh cell therapy, where fetal cells from a sheep are taken and introduced into a human. It further states that “fresh cell therapy” is also known as “stem cell treatment.”

While I’m not familiar with developments in medical biotechnology that have happened since I graduated, I’m pretty sure that the term “stem cell treatment,” as discussed in the news, currently broadly refers to human-to-human transplants. To illustrate, a related article in the same issue of the online publication discusses “stem cell therapy” without referring to animal-to-human transplantation. If ever, I’m fairly certain such a process would be called “xenogeneic stem cell therapy,” which, if I remember my science nomenclature right, would correctly indicate the process of taking stem cells from a creature of another species.

To be fair, though, the term “stem cell treatment” itself specifies only the use of undifferentiated cells for treatment purposes; strictly speaking, if one reads that phrase alone, the question of where the stem cells that are used came from is left unanswered. But given that the context of discussions surrounding “stem cells” nowadays is centered around human-derived stem cells, could we say that there’s been a case of misleading writing here?

I can only speak from my experience: I read “stem cell therapy” in the headline, I expected to read about human stem cell treatment, and I instead read about sheep’s fetal cells being used. Personally, I feel cheated. I learned from the article, sure, but it wasn’t what I expected at all.

What do you think? Am I being a prick about it, or do I have a right to feel like it was unfair?

Ex Post Facto

I recently heard this term from an officemate of mine: “ex post facto.” I won’t go into the details of how he came to blurt out that word: I’ll just say that it was a heated discussion.

I looked it up and found out that it is a legal term. Basically, this is what occurs when a law is implemented, and any act that violates that law is punishable even if the act was committed before the law was passed.

Now, the concept is alien to me. It seems like any democracy built on fairness and justice should frown at and automatically throw out the notion of punishing people for acts that were not criminal at the time that they were committed. Seems almost like you’re saying, “you should have known we’d declare this illegal someday, so you shouldn’t have done it even before there was a law.”

Too cruel to believe, right?

Well, I could understand how some laws can be implemented “ex post facto” especially if they’re serious enough. I’m sure when it comes to any amendments to existing laws against murder, particularly amendments that would make the punishment more severe, there would not be much resistance if lawmakers wanted to add to the punishment. This begs the question, though: what if the person has already been sentenced? If a murderer was sentenced to 20 years in prison 15 years ago, which, let’s say, was the maximum sentence at the time, and then a law is passed increasing the maximum sentence to 30 years, is there any scenario in which adding another 10 years to that criminal’s sentence post-sentencing would be justifiable? What if the law is passed in the middle of a murder case, just before the judge sentences the defendant who is found guilty? Would the judge be allowed to use the new limit in sentencing?

What kinds of crimes would be fundamentally wrong enough to warrant “ex post facto” implementation of sanctions or punishment?

This doesn’t seem to be a good post. There are more questions than answers.