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STEM CELL RESEARCH: POLITICAL ACTIVITY

Politics of extracting new stem cell lines

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Sponsored link.

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A companion essay deals with the research use of existing stem cells.

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Political implications:

Much of the debate over stem cells involves whether to allow scientists to extract stem cells from surplus, unneeded, frozen embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization procedures in fertility clinics. Extracting the stem cells kills the embryos. But a more important consideration is whether to allow funding of projects that use currently available stem cells that were removed from embryos in the past. Some political implications of the debate:

bulletGeorge W. Bush took the following actions:
bulletIn 2000-MAY, then presidential candidate  Bush wrote to Culture of Life Foundation -- a pro-life group. He said "I oppose federal funding for stem cell research that involves destroying living human embryos.
bulletIn a letter dated 2000-SEP-22, he vowed he would continue to deny federal tax dollars for experiments that destroyed human embryonic persons by removing their vital stem cells.
bulletIn 2001-JAN, he told the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that he believed ''taxpayer funds should not be used to underwrite research that involves the destruction of live embryos.''
bulletAlso, in 2001-JAN, he placed a freeze on government experiments using stem cells.
bulletHe decided on 2001-AUG-9 to release federal funding for research on existing stem cell lines. But he kept his word in that no additional embryos are to be destroyed for their stem cells. This decision may turn out to be the most difficult of his term as president.
bulletPrior to Bush's decision, Ken Conner, president of the pro-life Family Research Council, had said "The president's own credibility and integrity are at stake here. Should he violate his pledge, the political fallout would be devastating.'' 1
bulletIf he hadn't enable research, then he will would have removed hope from the approximately 100 million people suffering from various disorders and diseases that may be treatable or cured with stem cells. The political fallout would also have been devastating.
bulletThe British government has already approved stem cell research.
bulletIt is not clear whether the existing lines of stem cells will be sufficiently robust and genetically diverse to continue research in government labs. If they are not, then a major brain-drain of the most competent government researchers will occur with experts moving to the UK and to private American companies to continue their work. Their research will not stop; it will merely be relocated.
bulletWithout the support of pro-life Roman Catholics and conservative Protestants, President Bush would have lost the 2000 election. The Roman Catholic church adamantly opposes stem cell research. However a Wall Street Journal / NBC poll found that 72% of white Roman Catholics favor stem cell research. 2
bullet"...many Democrats, much of the scientific community, organizations fighting for disease cures, the American Fertility Association, and celebrities such as actors Michael J. Fox...Mary Tyler Moore and Christopher Reeve" 3 supported the continuation of research.
bulletA Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) has been formed to support the funding of stem cell research. 4 Members include some highly respected groups: the ALS Association, American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Association, American Pediatric Society, American Society for Microbiology, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, American Society of Hematology, AMFAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research), Association of American Medical Colleges, Association of American Universities, Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Canavan Research Illinois, Cancer Research Foundation of America, Cedars-Sinai Health System, Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, Coalition of Patient Advocates for Skin Disease Research, Columbia University, Duke University Medical Center, Genetic Alliance, Hadassah, Harvard University, IFADD (International Foundation for Anticancer Drug Discovery), International Longevity Center -- USA, Jeffrey Modell Foundation, John Hopkins Medicine, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF), Lymphoma Research Foundation of America, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, Monash University, National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, National Council on Spinal Cord Injury, National Health Council, NCCR (National Coalition for Cancer Research), Parents of Infants and Children with Kernicterus (PICK), Parkinson’s Action Network, Project A.L.S., Research!America, Rett Syndrome Research Foundation (RSRF), Society for Pediatric Research, Stanford University Medical Center, Steven and Michele Kirsch Foundation, Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance, University of California System, University of Michigan, University of Rochester Medical Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Washington University in St. Louis, WiCell Research Institution/Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and the Wisconsin Association for Biomedical Research and Education.
bulletSome leading Republicans are urging the president to approve research. These include:
bulletSenator Bob Bennett (R-UT)
bulletSenator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
bulletSenator Trent Lott, (R-MS), GOP leader
bulletSenator John McCain (R-AZ)
bulletSenator Harry Reid (D-NV)
bulletSenator Strom Thurmond (R-SC)
bulletStaunch pro-lifer Thommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin and current Health and Human Services Secretary.

However, most Republicans are opposed to research.

bulletOpposing research are "the religious right, pro-life groups... many... Republicans' and conservative activists... [who] consider the research 'immoral.' " 3
bulletA letter to President Bush supporting stem cell research was signed by 30 House Republicans. A letter opposing research was signed by only three Senate Republicans.
bulletOn 2001-JUL-5, a group of 60 moderate and pro-choice House Republicans sent a letter to the President asking him to fund embryonic stem cell research. This was in response to an earlier letter by House Republican leaders (Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, and J.C. Watts) which opposes research. 5

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Sponsored link:

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Public opinion polls:

Public support for stem cell research appears very strong. However, polls on hot ethical questions like this are fraught with difficulties.

bulletAs we have described in our essay on abortion polls, results are greatly influenced by the phrasing of the polling questions. Consider two extreme questions that could be asked:
bulletDo you favor the killing of unborn babies in order to extract their stem cells for medical research?
bulletDo you favor the use of existing stem cells in research to cure or treat dozens of serious diseases like Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease, etc?

Both are perfectly valid questions. The former uses pro-life terminology; the second does not mention where the stem cells came from. The tabulated results would be very different.

bulletMany people have not become informed on this topic. They may have read enthusiastic articles in the media about the promise of stem cell research, but have probably seen few negative news releases by pro-life groups. Thus, they have not fully evaluated the facts, and can only give a snap decision to a polling question.

ABC News and Beliefnet.com:

Their poll was conducted by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, PA, on 2001-JUN-20 to 24 A random sampling of 1,022 adults were polled. Margin of error is 3 points. It showed that American adults support stem cell research by about a 2:1 margin (58% in favor; 30% opposed). 60% call for government grants.

bulletRoman Catholics favor research (54% in favor; 30% opposed). They favor funding by 60% to 32%.
bulletWhite Evangelical Protestants support research by 50% to 40%
bulletThe only identifiable group to oppose stem cell research are African-Americans (44% opposed)
bullet62% of independent voters favor research
bullet63% of adults who described themselves as "moderates" approved of research.
bulletSelf-identified pro-choicers favored research by 76% to 15%; 50% of Pro-lifers are opposed to stem cell research. 6

Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research poll (2001-MAY):

Caravan OCR International surveyed 1,010 randomly selected adults on behalf of the CAMR on 2001-MAY-10 to 13. 4 The margin of error is three percentage points. They attempted to avoid the usual problems of public opinion polls, by:

  1. Asking the subjects for their initial opinion of stem cell research that comes from fertilized eggs.
  2. Reading a series of arguments from supporters and opponents of the research.
  3. Asking the subjects for their opinion after hearing the arguments.

Results were:

bullet77% were initially in favor of stem cell research.
bulletSupport dropped to 70% after hearing the arguments:
bulletSubjects who strongly supported research outnumbered those who were strongly opposed by 3 to 1.
bulletAmong Catholics, support outstripped opposition by more that 3 to 1 (77% to 23%)
bulletAmong Fundamental Christians, the ratio was almost 2.5 to 1 (63% to 26%)
bulletAmong self-identified pro-lifers, 56% favored stem cell research; 57% favored NIH funding of research.
bulletSubjects strongly favored government funding of stem cell research by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) by 2.5 to 1.

CAMR chairperson Lawrence Soler said: "This survey shows beyond a doubt that the American people have a strong sense of the promise of embryonic stem cell research and that they want it to go forward."

Former Senator Connie Mack, (R-FL) said: "These results confirm that many Americans feel that this research holds enormous promise for saving lives, and that we should view it from a personal perspective rather than a political one because it’s not a pro-life, pro-choice issue. I agree. Tens of millions of Americans—and my family and I are among them—know the pain and loss of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.  This research gives us great hope and it deserves our support."

Poll by Hart - Teeter (2001-JUN):

The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. It showed that Americans support stem cell research by a margin of 3 to 1. Among white Roman Catholics, 72% support research.

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References used in the above essay:

  1. Corinna Schuler, "Which of my children would you kill?," National Post, at: http://www.suntimes.com/output/news/
  2. "Bush remains undecided, but the public favors embryo [sic] research," Wall Street Journal, 2001-JUN-29. Online at: http://www.stemcellfunding.org/fastaction/
  3. William Walker, "Stem cell research row splits U.S.," Toronto Star, 2001-JUL-5, Page A1 & A11
  4. "Survey finds overwhelming public support for federal funding of stem cell research: Backing comes from a spectrum of religious affiliations and ethical perspectives," The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research at: http://www.stemcellfunding.org/fastaction/
  5. William Walker, "Party moderates urge Bush to support stem cell study," Toronto Star, 2001-JUL-6.
  6. "The surprising politics of stem cells," at: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/82/story_8276_1.html

Copyright © 1998 to 2001 incl., and 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-NOV-9
Author: B.A. Robinson

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