Election Debate Clouds Stem Cell Issue
Rhetoric Can Confuse Rather Than Inform
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.
"What's happening is people's views are being shaped by advertising. I
don't think the public has a real clue what stem cells are. Physicians don't
know," he tells WebMD.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in Missouri, Paris says. A ballot
initiative there asks voters to decide whether the state's constitution should
allow embryonic stem cell research and guarantee Missourians access to any
cures that arise from the research.
The initiative has sparked a bitter debate between pro-research and pro-life
forces. Another commercial starring Fox ran there, as have dozens of other ads
for and against the initiative and two Senate candidates in a neck-and-neck
Opponents say the initiative promotes human cloning and would coerce women
into selling their eggs for research. Supporters argue that cloning is
specifically ruled out and that the initiative will promote research into
promising new cures.
The Fine Print
For the truth, voters would have to turn off the campaign ads and instead
delve into the fine print. Stem cell research and cloning are two very
The initiative's legal language bans cloning intended to reproduce a human
but exempts a technique known as "therapeutic cloning."
Called somatic cell nuclear transfer, the technique involves extracting DNA
from an adult cell and injecting it into a human egg. When the egg divides it
produces stem cells genetically identical to the adult cell donor. That can
provide an end run around the problem of immune rejection.
Tipton says anti-stem-cell forces are "desperate to confuse people"
on the difference between stem cell research and various forms of cloning.
But Patty Skain, executive director of Missouri Right to Life, defends all
of her side's ads as accurate and accuses the other side of overhyping the
promise of stem cell research.
"They're claiming these cures are going to happen and in fact they have
not had one success," she says.