HOPE FOR AMPUTEES? (But not from God)
Atheists, have you ever been asked, “What would it take for you to give up your skepticism and believe in God?”
Here is the best answer I’ve come up with. “I would reconsider my dis-belief in God if the prayers of amputees were answered and they grew new arms and legs.”
I figured I was in no danger of having to eat my own words or having to fall to my knees in prayer. It just ain’t going to happen and even evangelicals who claim prayer can work miracles know amputees will never grow back their parts no matter how much they and others pray for them.
Now for the shocker in medical research news: “Amputees Have Hope!” Well, not right now, but sometime in the near future. “Pixie dust and stem cells offer hope.” Not just for amputees, but theoretically for anyone who needs a replacement body part, esophagus, lung, or heart. Think about it, consider what’s involved in the regrowth of a finger. An amputee would have to regrow new muscles, bones, arteries, veins, nerves, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, etc. Yes, even a finger is a complicated structure with many types of body tissue involved.
This medical breakthrough was first reported several years ago in the press and in medical journals, and then mostly forgotten. But since then, research has gone well and results are better than anyone could have hoped for.
Before I tell you about these amazing research trials I’d like to tell you about their significance. Sometime in the near future, perhaps ten years hence, doctors will be able to attach a little dome around the stump of an amputated limb, add a recipe of chemicals and a few zaps of electricity to stimulate the growth of a new limb. How will the religious world take this breakthrough? Will they condemn it because science is infringing on godly matters? Will that scientific accomplishment destroy the faith of true believers? Probably not. Religion has already survived greater reversals such as science’s correction of flat earth concept, the structure of our solar system, the age of the universe, and the theory of evolution. As a wise person once said “belief systems not based upon fact will not be dissuaded by fact.” Theologians and religion’s apologists are a stubborn lot who readily admit when science conflicts with God’s word, science must be wrong.
Most rationalists, like me, believe religion will continue to lose more of its following as people become more educated and feel more secure. Poverty and insecurity insure the survival of religion. If religions cannot or will not offer their followers food, health, and security in this life, what always remains is an afterlife reward. In addition, as people become familiar with the physical sciences, such as astronomy, biology, and paleontology, they will gradually reject religious fantasies, as adult minds now reject the Easter bunny and Santa Claus. “God induced miracles” will be recognized as placebo tricks played upon gullible believers.
Concerning the regrowth of limbs and body parts: Forty years ago when I worked in an army hospital, a frequent operation was to harvest veins in the leg to be transplanted for clogged coronary arteries. This was done usually with success. Auto-grafts from one part of a patient’s body to another part of his/her body were useful because of the absence of tissue rejection. Also, pigs skin grafts were found to be a effective temporary protective covering for burn patients who eventually grew back some of their lost skin. Skin auto grafts were improved upon by punching small holes in the tissue enabling the surgeon to stretch the graft over a larger area inducing additional skin growth. Teflon, stainless steel, a variety of plastics, and mesh have been used successfully for many years. A big breakthrough occurred when the value of stem cells was recognized. Stem cells had the ability to grow into any other kind of body cell. Stem cells were harvested from placental blood, aborted fetuses, and human eggs starting an ethical/religious controversy. Another source of stem cells is from the patients themselves. A limited number of stem cells are present and circulate in our bodies to be used to repair damaged body parts. Stem cells are difficult to obtain but remain the most ideal way to stimulate repair and regrowth of body tissue.
Recently Discover Magazine revisited an old story about a corporal who lost most of his leg muscles due to a bomb explosion in Afghanistan. The doctors recommended amputation but the patient refused. He successfully strengthened the muscles by exercise but years later still had pain and no real use of his leg. One day while watching a science program on TV he saw a story about someone who regrew an amputated finger by sprinkling “pixie dust on the stump.
Pixie dust was a name given to a material obtained from pigs. The injured soldier received a sheet of pixie dust made from ground up pig bladder extracellular matrix, ECM. Extra cellular matrix is the stuff that occupies the space between body cells. It contains powerful proteins that awake the body’s latent ability to regenerate tissue. After six months, the soldier’s leg muscle had grown back by 80%. Today it is stronger than the uninjured leg. As a result of this positive research and surgery, the government has committed 80 million dollars for continued research to help 1.7 million patients who are missing limbs and other body parts.
Have you heard about the attempt to grow a new esophagus? The esophagus, once damaged by chemicals or surgery is highly prone to form scar tissue and other complications. Experimenters rolled up a sheet of ECM into tubes and implanted them into experimental animals. Amazingly, new functional esophagi grew back without scar tissue or infection.
I mentioned the bio-dome above. In order to enhance an ideal regenerating environment as in the mother’s womb, researchers have covered the entire end of an amputated limb in a plastic dome, added growth factors, amniotic fluid, water and electrical current in an attempt to recreate conditions that exist in a living embryo. ECM was better able to form muscle, fat, bone, tendon, and intracellular tissue. Eventually, implanted pixie dust totally disappeared and was replaced by the specific body tissue that is needed and was there prior to amputation.
New implantation technique and material can be used for rotator cuff repair, hernia repair, blood vessel repair, esophagus repair, and outer lining of brain lining repair, and intestinal repair.
How does ECM work? Apparently ECM contains normal stem cells, which have the potential to grow into any and all kinds of body cells. Using Stem cells from the patient’s own body is even better. They avoid rejection, promote healing and lessen the chance of infection. A limited number of stem cells normally circulate in blood vessels and have the potential to reach every part of the body, and become any tissue that the body needs. Stem cells have the memory and the knowledge to become any kind of cell.
Pixie dust is not magic, it’s not supernatural, and it’s not the result of prayer. It is just plain old medical science, funded by your tax dollars and adventurous private capital. I have no doubt that those who promote intercessory prayer will claim God has answered their prayers by growing new limbs and body parts on those who have been the recipients of their prayers. Currently, faith healers claim to lengthen congenitally short legs and arms through prayer right before your eyes on their healing TV shows. I have seen, what appears to be the lengthening of a leg by four inches, an inch per second. Of course we have to take their word for it because no medical and anatomical proof is offered.
As you already know, I do not accept the non-documented regrowth of amputated limbs as proof of God’s existence. I’m still waiting for good proof with an open mind. Why is God so reluctant to make himself or herself known to skeptics? And, why are the faithful so adamant that they have scientifically proven the existence of their god through intercessory prayer, while at the same time demanding documented scientific proof from other religions. Are Catholic, Muslim, and Hindu healing shrines, filled with crutches, braces, and wheel-chairs testimony to the validity of that religion’s truth and the existence of its God(s)? Unexplained healings occur in all religious faiths and, believe it or not, in non praying populations.
I remain willing to rethink my disbelief in God when I get good scientific evidence he/she/it exists. I’m a patient guy with an open mind.