Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the World Stem Cell Summit, and as is habit when I attend conferences, I tweeted my reactions to various panels I attended. Alexey Bersenev asked if I would elaborate on my rather frustrated tweeting from the panel on “The Role of States in Regulating Stem Cell Therapies,” and I agreed (although I didn’t specify the timeline of when that would happen, obviously).
This panel was a regulatory session, as were most of the panels that I sat in on. It was moderated by Kirstin Matthews, from Rice University, and the panelists were Keri Kimler of the Texas Heart Institute; Mitchell S. Fuerst, a lawyer who has represented Regenerative Sciences (Regenexx/Dr. Chris Centeno et al.) in their lawsuit with the FDA; and Leigh Turner, a bioethicist from the University of Minnesota.
Paul Knoepfler was also in the audience for this panel session; in his brief write-up, he called the discussion between Fuerst and Turner a “particularly interesting and vigorous debate.”
I am going to go a little bit further than that, and say that I think it was actually a really lousy panel and debate, largely because Fuerst opted to engage in what is often referred to as conversational terrorism. He relied on every “trick” in the book, including a full range of ad hominem attacks, attempts at misdirection, constant interruption and talking over both Turner and Kimler, dismissing valid criticisms with the repeated statement of “that’s not germane to this discussion,” and perhaps the one that got under my skin the most, utter loud bombast, as if shouting at the audience will simply intimidate them into agreeing with you.
In my case, it does quite the opposite. This is probably in part because I’m female, and a lot of men seem to feel that shouting loudly at a woman will intimidate her into silence, going away, or acceding to demands. Mostly it just makes me cranky and likely to yell right back — something I managed to avoid doing at the panel, largely because during the Q& A period much of the audience got up to ask Turner and Kimler questions that they were unable to address during the panel due to Fuerst’s behavior.
Turner was able to talk during the panel — at least at times — and address some of the interesting and contentious issues around the role of states in regulating stem cell therapies, and I was able to learn some more about the topic. But Kimler barely spoke, and this is too bad — she was there as a patient advocate, and given her background and experiences in Texas, with their medical board and their recent stem cell guidelines, I would have liked the opportunity to hear and understand more about the position(s) that she supports.
By engaging in bad behaviour, Fuerst undermined the position he supports regarding state and federal oversight of stem cell regulations and denied the audience not only the opportunity to learn about his position in a non-confrontational manner, but the opportunity to learn from the other two experts invited to speak.
And just to be clear, this is not behaviour unique to Fuerst. In fact, it was on display in September during the Texas Tribune Festival’s panel on whether or not the state’s stem cell policy was good for Texans.