Stem Cells, Cancer, and Politics

The cover of this week’s Economist magazine caught my eye because this weekend I was talking with people about stem cell issues in the context of the Presidential election.

Economist Stem Cells and Cancer, September 13, 2008

Part of our discussion was how the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s Vice Presidential nominee will effect the Republican ticket’s position on stem cell research.

Doing a quick search on the internet, it appears that John McCain is refining in his position to support research on adult stem cells, while maintaining a foundation that doesn’t alienate the conservative base of his party.  Specifically, the only reference to stem cell research that I could find on the campaign’s web-site is:

Addressing the Moral Concerns of Advanced Technology

Stem cell research offers tremendous hope for those suffering from a variety of deadly diseases – hope for both cures and life-extending treatments. However, the compassion to relieve suffering and to cure deadly disease cannot erode moral and ethical principles.

For this reason, John McCain opposes the intentional creation of human embryos for research purposes. To that end, Senator McCain voted to ban the practice of “fetal farming,” making it a federal crime for researchers to use cells or fetal tissue from an embryo created for research purposes. Furthermore, he voted to ban attempts to use or obtain human cells gestated in animals. Finally, John McCain strongly opposes human cloning and voted to ban the practice, and any related experimentation, under federal law.

As president, John McCain will strongly support funding for promising research programs, including amniotic fluid and adult stem cell research and other types of scientific study that do not involve the use of human embryos.

Where federal funds are used for stem cell research, Senator McCain believes clear lines should be drawn that reflect a refusal to sacrifice moral values and ethical principles for the sake of scientific progress, and that any such research should be subject to strict federal guidelines.

I also found other articles and analyses concerning his earlier positions on stem cell research which seem less equivocal than his current campaign position.

Q: Would you expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research?

A: I believe that we need to fund this. This is a tough issue for those of us in the pro-life community. I would remind you that these stem cells are either going to be discarded or perpetually frozen. We need to do what we can to relieve human suffering. It’s a tough issue. I support federal funding.

Retrieved from

Source: 2007 GOP primary debate, at Reagan library, hosted by MSNBC May 3, 2007

New Ad
Our weekend discussion also turned out to be a bit prescient, since my internet search turned up information about a new radio ad the McCain-Palin campaign is running that touts all the benefits of stem cell research without making any qualifications about what types of research would be allowed, or any of the moral issues raised on his campaign’s web-site.

Stem Cells Probably Not a Defining Campaign Issue
While stem cell research is certainly a sub-issue of the abortion/choice debate, and would not likely be a deciding factor for many voters, it is an issue of particular interest for biomedical researchers and some patient groups concerned with the development of better treatments and cures for cancers, (as discussed in the Economist), and degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out in the next few weeks and if it is raised during any of the debates…. Stay tuned.

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