Campaign ads snipe over stem cells
Friday, October 17th, 2008
In the world of science, precision and accuracy win accolades, but political pundits say this election season, the debate over stem cells has perhaps been purposefully imprecise. Campaign ads from senators John McCain and Barack Obama simply talk about stem cell research with no mention of the much-debated branch of study on human embryos.
More special coverage on health, science and the elections.
Taunya’s report on local scientists advancing the field of adult stem cell research.
University of Pennsylvania stem cell researcher John Gearhart believes Senator Barack Obama is the candidate most likely to expand human embryonic stem cell studies in the U.S. and allow federal funding for that work.
Gearhart serves on Obama’s science committee, but says he’s been disappointed by the sound-bite debate.
Gearhart: And I’ve heard ads locally for the Obama campaign that I don’t think have been fair in stating what Senator McCain’s position has been.
Several political commentators blasted this ad from the Obama camp.
Obama Campaign Ad: John McCain has stood in the way he has opposed stem cell research, picked a running mate who’s against it and he’s running on a platform even more extreme than George Bush’s on this vital research.
Critics say the spot glosses over the fact that the presidential candidates have identical voting records on stem cells. The McCain campaign responded with its own ad.
McCain Response Ad: Senator Arlen Specter … I joined with Senator John McCain and our congressional allies to pass stem cell research. We stood up and said stem cell research was too important. That it was time to put the health of the American people first.
Both voted twice to relax President Bush’s 2001 limit on government spending for human embryonic stem cell research. Science policy expert Michael Stebbins wants to hear more from Senator McCain.
Stebbins: Yes, both candidates do in fact have the same voting record, however, his campaign now has turned around and will not say categorically that they will lift the president’s ban, they simply say, ‘Well, our record is clear on that.’
Stebbins says McCain has been silent on a revised GOP stance that would ban research on human embryos.
Stebbins: So he’s in a very sticky situation here, where his party has nominated him for president and has adopted a platform that is the opposite of his voting record.
Barack Obama says research on human embryos that are set to be discarded is a “legitimate moral” approach in the push for medical cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk says it is never ethically justifiable do scientific research that destroys human embryos. Pacholczyk is education director for The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. He says John McCain owes voters definitive answers about his current position on human embryonic stem cell research.
Pacholczyk: The question of fixing the economy, the question of immigration, the question of abortion, the question of embryonic stem cell research, these are on different kinds of planes. And certain values, in particular the value of life necessarily stands at the very top of the hierarchy.
Senator McCain applauds advances in adult stem cell research and says those breakthroughs may make the human embryonic debate “academic.”
Gearhart says adults cells can now be nudged to behave in ways similar to embryonic stem cells. He says it’s a revolutionary strategy in the hunt for therapies that can restore tissue function lost to aging, disease or trauma.
Gearhart: What was important about this revolutionary strategy was that the information to be able to do this came from the study of embryonic stem cells. Had you not had embryonic stem cells you would never been able to do that.
Since, 2001 the National Institutes of Health has invested more than $170 million on human embryonic stem cells research. More than a billion NIH dollars have gone toward human stem cells studies that don’t involve embryos.
The NIH is under the umbrella of the executive branch, and beginning in 2009, that branch will be headed by either Barack Obama or John McCain.