Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stem Cell Debate Frozen in Time...For Now

Just like last year, it doesn't appear the Senate will have enough votes to override another Bush veto on extending federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Just like last year, social conservatives are hyping adult stem cell research as if there needs to be a choice made between it and embryonic stem cell research.

And before folks get too excited about the recent research that took place in Brazil in which adult stem cells were used to eliminate, at least in the short term, the need for insulin shots in Type I diabetes patients, they may want to check out this snippet on the study:

The transplants were conducted at the University of Sao Paulo. Lead researcher Dr. Julio Voltarelli doubts the treatment will become widespread "because it is too cumbersome, expensive and potentially toxic."

Other treatments under development, such as embryonic stem cell transplants, may prove to be simpler and less toxic, Voltarelli said.

The bottom line, which this snippet makes clear, is that adult stem cell research is great, but so is embryonic stem cell research. That's what the vast majority of the scientific community believes, and that's what the majority of this country believes.

But the reality is that for the next two years, the social conservatives in the GOP will be able to block the expansion of embryonic stem cell research in the US in spite of those majorities.

Spending time on the substantive issue of stem cell research just seems pointless. I did it last year, as did others. But it makes little to no difference because it's not the public that needs to change -- it's those in power.

And here's a rundown of where the major known contenders for the White House in 2008 stand on the issue of embryonic stem cell research.

All of the Dem candidates support it wholeheartedly. On the GOP side, both Giuliani and McCain support the use of federal funding for research on new embryonic stem cell lines, which is the bill Bush vetoed last year and will again this year. McCain voted for the bill last year.

That leaves Mitt Romney as the only major known presidential candidate who opposes the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research using new lines. But, as appears to be the case with many social issues, Romney was for it before he was against it. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: "Prior to 2005, Romney broadly supported research on embryonic stem cells. He traces the change in his stance to an epiphany during meetings with stem cell researchers."

No wonder social conservatives don't have a clue about who to support in 2008.

But even if the GOP is able to find another candidate who feels like Bush about embryonic stem cell research, that shouldn't exactly alleviate concerns. After all, that may help get a candidate through the primaries, but it's going to require a lot of explaining heading into the general.

And if the gubernatorial race in the battleground state of Wisconsin last November is any indication, the explanation is going to take more than simply hiding behind support for the generic phrase "stem cell research" or trying to divert attention to the issue of funding rather than the research itself.

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