Election Debate Clouds Stem Cell Issue
Rhetoric Can Confuse Rather Than Inform
Nov. 6, 2006 -- Tuesday's election will be the first nationwide voting since
President Bush's veto in July of a bill expanding federal funding for embryonic
stem cell research.
Candidates' stances on the research are weighing heavily in two key races as
the political parties battle for control of the House and Senate in
But the barrage of campaign ads tends to hide more about stem cell research
than it reveals. Ethicists and advocates alike warn that complex scientific
issues are nearly invisible in the glare of partisan politics and political
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are found in early human embryos within a few days of
fertilization. Scientists are interested in them because of their ability to
grow into any tissue in the body. That could make them good candidates in the
future for curing a range of diseases, such as Parkinson's and diabetes.
Adult stem cells avoid possible ethical pitfalls of embryonic cells, which
require an embryo's destruction for harvesting. But scientists backing
embryonic research say that embryonic cells are far more versatile than adult
Stem cell research will probably not be the most important issue in most
voters' minds on Tuesday, says James G. Gimpel, PhD, a professor of government
at the University of Maryland.
"For those people for whom this is the decisive issue, they would have
made up their opinion long ago," he says.
But that hasn't stopped stem cells from becoming a major campaign issue in
the final weeks of Maryland's Senate race. Actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers
disease, recently starred in a commercial telling voters that Lt.
Gov. Michael Steele, the Republican nominee for the seat, opposes stem cell
Only a few days later, Steele's campaign released a commercial of its own.
Now TV and radio waves are carrying a testimonial from Steele's sister, Dr.
Monica Turner, a multiple sclerosis patient, attacking Fox and Rep. Ben Cardin,
Steele's Democratic opponent.
"There's something you should know about Michael Steele. He does support
stem cell research," Turner states in the commercial.
What the ad doesn't say is at the heart of one of the most confusing parts
of the stem cell debate.
Steele has said he supports research on stem cells derived from adult
sources like bone marrow. But he backed Bush's July veto because he opposes
embryonic research that requires the destruction of embryos to gain stem
"No question that politicians on both sides of the issue articulate it
incorrectly," says Sean Tipton,
Ads Create Confusion
The Rev. John J. Paris, a professor of bioethics at Boston College and a
Jesuit priest, says that while the majority of the public favors embryonic
research, ads like Fox's and Steele's have done little to inform voters about
the real issues surrounding stem cells.