STEM CELL RESEARCH: POLITICAL ACTIVITY
Politics of extracting new stem cell lines
A companion essay deals with the
research use of existing stem cells.
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:
||George W. Bush took the following actions:|
||In 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." |
||In 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. |
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.'' |
||Also, in 2001-JAN, he placed a freeze on government experiments
using stem cells.|
||He 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.
||Prior 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
||If 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.
||The British government has already approved stem cell research.|
||It 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.|
||Without 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|
||"...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.|
||A 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. |
||Some leading Republicans are urging the president to approve
research. These include:|
||Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT)
||Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
||Senator Trent Lott, (R-MS), GOP leader
||Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
||Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
||Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC)
||Staunch pro-lifer Thommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin
and current Health and Human Services Secretary.
However, most Republicans are opposed to research.
||Opposing research are "the religious right, pro-life
groups... many... Republicans' and conservative activists... [who] consider the
research 'immoral.' " 3|
||A letter to President Bush supporting stem cell research was signed by
30 House Republicans. A letter opposing research was signed by only three
||On 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.
Public opinion polls:
Public support for stem cell research appears very strong. However,
polls on hot ethical questions like this are fraught with difficulties.
||As 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:|
||Do you favor the killing of unborn babies in order to extract
their stem cells for medical research?
||Do you favor the use of existing stem cells in research to cure or
treat dozens of serious diseases like Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart
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.
||Many 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
||Roman Catholics favor research (54% in favor; 30% opposed). They favor
funding by 60% to 32%.
||White Evangelical Protestants support research by 50% to 40%
||The only identifiable group to oppose stem cell research are
African-Americans (44% opposed)
||62% of independent voters favor research
||63% of adults who described themselves as "moderates" approved of
||Self-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
Asking the subjects for their initial opinion of stem cell research that comes from fertilized eggs.
Reading a series of arguments from supporters and opponents of the research.
Asking the subjects for their opinion after hearing the arguments.
||77% were initially in favor of stem cell research.|
||Support dropped to 70% after hearing the arguments:|
||Subjects who strongly supported research outnumbered those who were strongly opposed by 3 to 1.
||Among Catholics, support outstripped opposition by more that 3 to 1 (77% to 23%)
||Among Fundamental Christians, the ratio was almost 2.5 to 1 (63% to 26%)
||Among self-identified pro-lifers, 56% favored stem cell research; 57% favored NIH funding of research.
||Subjects 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.
References used in the above essay:
Corinna Schuler, "Which of my children would you kill?," National Post, at:
"Bush remains undecided, but the public favors embryo [sic] research," Wall Street Journal, 2001-JUN-29.
Online at: http://www.stemcellfunding.org/fastaction/
William Walker, "Stem cell research row splits U.S.," Toronto Star, 2001-JUL-5, Page A1 & A11
"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:
William Walker, "Party moderates urge Bush to support stem cell study," Toronto Star, 2001-JUL-6.
"The surprising politics of stem cells," at:
Copyright © 1998 to 2001 incl., and 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-NOV-9
Author: B.A. Robinson