The thought of a needle piercing someone's skin made me cringe for 22 years. When regular childhood inoculations were administered, I could not look. Seeing the needle would only increase the severity of the pain. Needles are things designed only for doctors and nurses to use in an effort to cure diseases.

I vividly remember my first experience with someone who willingly stuck a needle into his own skin. After eating several Tootsie Rolls, an acquaintance promptly removed a little black pack from his pocket and administered a shot in his arm. I closed my eyes. I could never give myself a shot.

That's why I'm in favor of stem-cell research.

At age 22, I was diagnosed with type one, juvenile onset, insulin-dependent diabetes. Life as I knew it had virtually ended. There was no way I could give myself a shot, let alone three to five a day. As an unwilling patient in the hospital, my doctors and nurses insisted that it was easy and forced me to learn how to live my new life — with insulin. Now, every time I eat and every night before I go to bed, I muster the bravest me that exists, pinch some skin and administer a shot.

The transition from where I was when I was first diagnosed to where I am today is great. I eat a much more healthy diet, I work out regularly, I maintain normal levels of sugar in my blood and I'm an advocate for embryonic stem-cell research.

I believe that stem-cell research holds the key to unlocking my dependence on needles. Because scientists believe they can coax stem cells into insulin-producing cells and transplant them into patients, type one diabetes is essentially curable.

Experiments in mice designed to generate insulin-producing cells from embryonic stem cells have proven to be successful. It seems to me that the cure to diabetes, and likely myriad other diseases as well, lies in the regeneration of cells, using embryonic stem cells.

This research has stirred an intense sociopolitical debate in America. Human embryonic stem-cell research requires a human egg fertilized in-vitro. Scientists remove the stem cells, which kills the embryo. In a nation where thousands of embryos created in-vitro must be discarded every year, I assume that common sense would quash any debate on the subject of embryonic death. However, the process has caused many pro-life advocates to argue that embryonic stem-cell research is unethical because it destroys life.

Recent reports anticipate the potential to create embryonic stem cells without destroying the embryo. I applaud the efforts of countless people to ensure that research does not stop. I am embarrassed for those who continue, without concern for the living, to disregard embryonic stem-cell research as destruction of life. They neglect to remember that those whom this research seeks to save are also alive.

My position is pro-life. I believe that a human being who is currently living deserves the right to enjoy a full and happy life without the threat of a degenerative disease. And, the real ethical question is not whether it is OK to use cells from a laboratory culture-dish, but whether it is OK to let millions of people suffer every day when scientists hold the key to their cure.

The ethical questions that may arise in my own home because of my diabetes are endless. My future children may someday think that injecting themselves with needles is OK because their mom does it. Those around me may wonder why some drugs are deemed safe while others are banned. I question why it's acceptable for insurance companies to reject those who need them most. And, is it OK for someone with a seemingly conservative background to turn their back on the potential life of an embryo?

Discussions of stem-cell research are not always ethics-related. Stem-cell research for me often includes discussion of hope. The possibility for my cure rests in the potential success of the research that for now is so limited in its scope that hope for change is the only thing that will ever benefit me. I cry every time I remember that people who fight against embryonic stem-cell research are essentially fighting against the only hope for millions of people. Thus rests the sociopolitical climate in America today, right to life and right to hope.

A cure for diabetes is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hope for the future of stem cells. Picture a world where doctors are on the verge of cures for paralysis, Parkinson's disease and cancer. Imagine testing the effects of new drugs, not on people, but in labs, where you learn how the drugs will ultimately affect people who use them. Imagine an organ bank for those in need of a transplant. The life-threatening diseases we know of today aren't quite so scary when coupled with the potential cure.

Yes, a cure for diabetes does sound nice. I've gotten used to carrying a little black pack of my own. Whenever I eat a couple of Tootsie Rolls and the person sitting next to me closes their eyes and tells me I'm brave, I remember and I hope.


Heidi Atkin lives in Salt Lake City.