In the Seventies and Eighties, Dr. William Rader made a name for himself by appearing on daytime talk shows to discuss then-fringe subjects like eating disorders and the psychological aftermath of sexual abuse. It was important to push the boundaries of what medicine could do, he claims in Eric Merola’s provocative documentary The God Cells.
But then he pushed too far. When, in the early 2000s, he began injecting fetal stem cells into patients with illnesses ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s, California’s medical board revoked his license. The film alleges that Rader’s stem cell treatment arouses controversy because the cells are “harvested” from aborted fetuses, and anti-abortion and Big Pharma lobbyists have pushed to make the practice illegal in the United States.
Why risk his license? Because, according to patients featured here, the injections stymied — and in a couple of cases reversed — symptoms. In a particularly moving interview, a mother describes her teenage daughter expressing a wish to die during the worst bouts of pain caused by an autoimmune disease. After the stem cell injections, the mother says through tears, her daughter’s pain all but disappeared.
The film relies solely on patient testimony to argue for the legalization of the injections. But what it lacks in comprehensive research, it makes up for in fascinating rhetoric. More than one interviewee insists that God would want to legalize the treatment — a tactic most often associated with religious anti-abortion groups. Another patient commandeers right-wing polemics by damning the government’s interference in his medical care.
The God Cells isn’t the first documentary to take on a controversial subject, but through some impressive rhetorical jujitsu, it might be one of the few to change some minds.
The God Cells
Directed by Eric Merola
Opens June 3, Cinema Village
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 1, 2016