Stem Cell Research: Science and Politics

Stem cell research has been the topic of many debates recently. The upcoming elections have once again brought stem cell research to the front of the line during debates. Some people believe that stem cell research is unethical while others believe that it will save millions of lives. The purpose of this

paper is to show how politics and stem-cell research are intertwined with one another and that they do relate with politics.

Stem cells are located in an embryo’s inner cell mass. Stem cells located in a three to five day old embryo, called a blastocyst, give rise to many specialized cells that make up the heart, lung, and skin. In adult tissues these cells can create replacements for cells lost because of injury or disease. These cells have the potential to develop into any tissue in the body. For example, research has shown that bone marrow stem cells can be transplanted into a damaged heart to regenerate healthy heart cells. Evidence shows that stem cells may be instructed to produce insulin which would provide a lasting solution for diabetics (NIH, 2006). No other cell can perform the same functions as stem cells. Other cells in the body have specific functions and they do not replicate. Stem cells are different from other cells because they have a special signal that other cells do not.

These signals are produced by the cell’s genes, which are located on the cells DNA. The genes act as a messenger and carry specific instructions about the cells function. Scientists are studying how these genes differ on each stem cell and if the signal can be altered. By studying this, the scientists are learning how to control the cells signals. If scientists can learn how to control the stem cells, they may be able to instruct stem cells to replicate any cell in the body. This could lead to cures for numerous diseases. If stem cell research is discontinued, people may never see how stem cells may benefit society.

On August 9, 2001, President George W. Bush became the first president to fund legally stem cell research using federal funds. The policy that President Bush put into effect for embryonic stem cell and alternative stem cell research was that federal funds will only be used for research on existing stem cell lines that were derived with the informed consent of the donors; derived from excess embryos created solely for reproductive purposes; and derived without any financial inducements to the donors. No federal funds will be used for the derivation or use of stem cell lines derived from newly destroyed embryos; the creation of any human embryos for research purposes; or the cloning of human embryos for any purpose. The president decided that from the 60 lines of stem cells that already exist from private funding, research would move forth since the embryo has already been destroyed (Bush, 2001). President Bush believed that this decision will allow embryonic stem cell research to be further explored without further crossing the line of morality. President Bush, however, did strongly acknowledge the alternative stem cell research with enthusiasm. Bush gave aggressive funding of $250 million to the research of umbilical cord, placenta, adult, and animal stem cells, as he said these do not involve the same moral dilemma (Lefkowitz, 2008).

America is divided when it comes to stem cell research. An individual with a religious background will more so disprove embryonic stem cell research; however, those that are healthcare focused will promote this research. “In 2001, a Harris Poll reported that a 3-to-1 majority believed that stem cell research should be allowed” (Harris Interactive, 2004). Stem cell research has been accepted by most Democrats in Congress and state capitals; however, Republicans are split on this issue. “In response to Bush’s 2001 decision to curtail federal funding of stem cell research and his first veto in July 2006 of a bill that would permit federal funding of the studies, states have taken widely diverging positions on the issue” (Vestal, 2007). So far seven states: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin “. . . are providing seed money for the fledgling science” (Vestal). Currently, six states have banned stem cell research: Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota. Iowa, Massachusetts and Missouri “. . . have affirmed its legality but do not offer funding” (Vestal).

On an economic standpoint, California became the first state to bridge the stem cell funding gap. On November 2, 2004, Proposition 71 was approved by Californians. Proposition 71 allowed a $3 billion dollar bond for human embryonic stem cell research (Stem Cell, 2004).

“A new economic study, co-authored by a nationally-recognized economic research firm, the Analysis Group, and Stanford professor and economist Dr. Laurence Baker, has determined that Proposition 71, the stem cell research bond measure, will generate a total of at least $6.4 to $12.6 billion in state revenues and healthcare cost savings during the payback period . . .” (PR Newswire, 2004).
According to PR Newswire (2004), Proposition 71 will provide approximately $3.4 billion to $6.9 billion savings in direct healthcare. This assumption is based on the hope that research would reduce state spending for treating “. . . six medical conditions that scientists believe could benefit from the development of new stem cell therapies, including stroke, acute myocardial infarction, insulin dependent diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and Alzheimer’s disease” (PR Newswire).

In Conclusion, stem cell research could pave the way to a new era in medicine, but the controversy and many different opinions puts a stop to advancing the research. Should stem cell research be allowed without any restrictions in the United States? No answer to this question is available yet, but as of right now, scientists cannot research beyond the restrictions. Stem cells create excitement for some people and hope of future cures and new approaches, but the basic research is not predictable and they don’t know what the future will bring.

References
Bush, G. W. (2001, August 9). President discusses stem cell research. Retrieved January 26, 2008, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/08/20010809-2.html
Harris Interactive. (2004, August 18). Those favoring stem cell research increases to a 73 to 11 percent majority. Retrieved from http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=488
Lefkowitz, J. P. (2008, January). Stem cells and the President: An inside account. Commentary, 125(1), 19-24. Retrieved January 26, 2008, from EBSCOhost database (0010-2601).
NIH. (2006, October). Stem cell basics. Retrieved January 24, 2008, from The National Institutes of Health Web Site: http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/basics1.asp
PR Newswire. (2004, September 14). New economic study demonstrates proposition 71 benefits to state economy; investment in stem cell research could yield more than $12 billion in returns through tax revenues, royalty revenues, and health care cost savings. PR Newswire, , . Retrieved January 24, 2008, from HighBeam Research database.
Stem Cell. (2004). Stem Cell Research. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from http://www.healthvote.org/index.php/site/prop_home/C28/
Stolberg, S. G. (2007, June 21). Bush vetoes measure on stem cell research. Retrieved January 26, 2008, from I:web articles Health careJan 26 Bush Vetoes Measure on Stem Cell Research – New York Times.mht
Vestal, C. (2007, June 21). Embryonic stem cell research divides states. Retrieved January 25, 2008, from http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=218416

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