Hundreds of students attend stem cell forum

Friday, February 10, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The discussion generated during Hickman High School’s Speak Your Mind forum proved that the stem cell research debate is just about as complex as the biology behind it.

More than 200 Hickman students gathered on Thursday to listen to five local panelists address human rights as well as the pros and cons of using embryonic or adult stem cells.

George Frissell, chairman of Hickman’s language arts department and coordinator of the Speak Your Mind forums, said the night’s topic was decided based on student interest.

“Apparently it’s on the minds of the students,” Frissell said.

The timing was good, he said, as stem cell research is becoming a controversial global issue.

The night started with researcher Chris Pierret, a doctoral candidate in MU’s School of Biological Sciences, who gave a brief introduction about stem cells. Pierret examined the issue from a biological standpoint and touched on the ethical controversy about whether embryonic stem cells should be used in scientific research.

Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, was present at the event.

“I think that it’s my job to help people understand issues,” she said during the forum.

Baker supported the scientific community’s efforts to use embryonic stem cells to find cures for existing diseases.

Panel member Wayne Cooper, a family practice physician and lobbyist, said he believed embryonic stem cell research is unethical.

“We have to look at the ethical decision involved in destroying embryos,” Cooper said.

The Speak Your Mind forums have been a tradition at Hickman for more than 15 years. The series started when a student from Frissell’s Classical Ideas and World Religions class expressed interest in making classroom forums a schoolwide event.

Past topics have included animal rights, the war in Iraq and presidential elections. This school year, the forums have addressed the energy crisis and the impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The school usually presents four forums each year. Topics are decided based on results from student surveys.

Frissell said he is proud of Hickman’s student involvement and commitment to discussing ethical and political issues.

“Very few schools nationally have anything like this,” he said.

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