Friday, August 29, 2008

Stem Cell Research

The issue of embryonic stem cell research is one issue on which the "maverick" John McCain has been lassoed and drawn closer to the Christian right of the Republican party, which has built a total ban on embryonic stem cell research into the party platform. As a Senator, McCain has backed embryonic stem cell research. As recently as April 2007, he joined a Democratic majority in voting for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 (text), which was passed by Congress and eventually vetoed by President Bush.

The legislation would have authorized research involving stem cell lines derived from human embryos "that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment." In order to increase the chances of successful in vitro fertilization, fertility clinics routinely fertilize multiple eggs to create pre-embryos. Some are implanted, others are frozen and stored. Most of these embryos are unneeded, and are eventually destroyed. The bill, which Obama co-sponsored and McCain supported, would have put these embryos to use in the creation of stem cell lines.

As recently as January of this year, McCain told a town hall meeting that on the issue of embryonic stem cell research, "I have not changed my position yet." But the platform of the Republic Party calls for a total ban on human embryonic stem cell research, both public and private.

Meanwhile, science has stepped in to help McCain finesse his position. New research indicates that stem cells are sloughed from the developing fetus and float freely in the amniotic fluid, from which they can be safely extracted. These stem cells, known as amniotic stem cells, appear to be especially promising for research purposes. It has also been shown that at the eight-cell stage of embryonic development, a single cell can be removed without harm to the embryo. The extracted cell can be used to develop a new stem cell line. Scientists stress, however, that these new options are not yet a substitute for embryonic stem cell research.

On his campaign website, McCain states his opposition to the "intentional creation of human embryos for research purposes." This wording seems not to preclude the use of embryos created for purposes of in vitro fertilization. He also specifically supports amniotic stem cell research.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in January 2007 indicated that 61% of respondents supported embryonic stem cell research. Even within the Republican Party, there are supporters of stem cell research for therapeutic purposes, including high-profile Republicans like Nancy Reagan. Although the majority of the American people favor stem cell research, the official GOP platform has been hijacked by "pro-life" extremists.

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