Must decide whether to keep a firm campaign promise to pro-life voters

LifeSite NewsAs U.S. President George Bush is about to release his decision on the use and funding of the destructive use of human embryos for stem cell experimentation, advocates and opponents are competing to have their voices heard. Pro-life groups have presented a unified front against the killing of this youngest of human life. At the same time, special interest groups and corporations which have spent much money on embryonic stem cell research are urging Bush to go further than Clinton in supporting such research. On all fronts the competition in this latest front of the war on the life of the unborn is fierce.

As LifeSite has reported, the battle over stem cells has pitted pro-abortion Republicans against their pro-life counterparts and both camps have written the president urging support for their position. Competing legislation on the issue has been introduced in the House of Representatives. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) has introduced the Stem Cell Research Act of 2001 to change the law so federal funds can be used to destroy human embryos for their stem cells. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has introduced the Responsible Stem Cell Research Act of 2001 to increase funding for stem cell research that does not require destruction of human life at any stage.

Competing groups of scientists have come out on both sides of the issue. While the National Institutes of Health has authorized research on stem cells from human embryos, a coalition of scientists under the banner of “Do No Harm” has submitted an impressive report on the latest adult stem cell research demonstrating that “the arguments for federal funding of destructive human embryonic stem-cell research rely on an outdated understanding that markedly underestimates the number of adult stem cells present in an adult human and the efficiency with which those cells can be reproduced.”

Disabled movie stars have also clashed on the issue with other spokespersons for the disabled. While Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox have spoken out in favour of human embryo research, Ron Heagy, a disabled opponent of destructive human embryo research gave testimony to the Senate. Heagy, a motivational speaker, informed the Senate that he is “completely paralyzed, with absolutely no movement in my arms, hands or legs, requiring 24 hour care.” He said he was “excited about the research on adult stem cells, and I am in favor of research that may assist in curing, or helping, those with disabilities,” however he added “never would I, or should this nation, support research at the expense of another human life.”

Advocacy groups on both sides are attempting to garner public support by media advertising campaigns. Yesterday the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation launched a major TV and print advertising campaign attempting to pull heartstrings in favour of human embryo research with an 11-year-old with juvenile diabetes. Meanwhile, the American Bioethics Advisory Commission took out a full-page ad in the Washington Times noting, “Embryonic stem cell research kills real people, and real scientists understand this.” The ad states: “REMOVE STEM CELLS FROM EMBRYOS AND REAL PERSONS REALLY DIE.” It features “Tommy Thompson, DHHS Secretary, embryonic person, 1941,” and 15 lawmakers who support experimentation which involves killing embryonic persons. “As famous people often do,” the ad continues, “they’ve forgotten where they came from. Because all of them were once embryonic persons. And all would have died anonymous deaths had their stem cells been removed.”

Polls on the issue failing to specify the type of stem cell research in question (either ethically problematic human embryonic stem cell research or ethically permissible adult stem cell research) find the public generally in support of stem cell research and its public funding. An ABC/Beliefnet poll found that 60% support funding of such research and 31% oppose it. However, the poll failed to mention that adult stem cells could provide the same benefits as embryonic stem cells are hoped to. A poll by International Communications Research commissioned by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops asked Americans to choose between funding all stem cell research (both adult and embryonic), and funding only adult stem cell research and similar alternatives to see if there is no need to destroy embryos for research. The poll found Americans prefer the latter approach 67% to 18%.