60 Minutes on Stem Cells and Snake Oil

Posted by Osagie Obasogie September 22, 2010
Biopolitical Times

60 Minutes recently re-aired a story from April about con artists who play upon the desperation of people with fatal degenerative diseases by holding themselves out as doctors that can treat their ailments with cutting edge stem cell treatments. Problem is that no such treatment exists. Yet, by the time these individuals find out, they are typically out of over $100,000.

60 Minutes does a tremendous public service by exposing the boldface lies used to steal what is often victims’ life savings. This includes tall tales such as stem cells’ ability to routinely reverse the effects of ALS and miraculously allow people to stand up and walk from their wheelchairs.

Correspondent Scott Pelley notes that the “incredible pitch [made by the con men] often works because victims have heard something about the promise of stem cells, but don’t really know much about them.”

This is certainly true. But the connection between what people have heard and their vulnerability for stem cell cons runs much deeper. Although the hype around stem cell research has calmed down a bit in the past few years due to the economic crisis and expanded (though contested) federal funding, its remnants still resonate. Nothing excuses these thieves’ vulgar hucksterism. But we should think long and hard about how irresponsible political discourse helps to make such cons viable. 

Previously on Biopolitical Times: