Democrats believe making embryonic stem cell research a campaign issue will help them in their effort to gain a majority in the House of Representatives in November's elections.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has unveiled new advertisements that target seven Republicans who oppose federal funds for stem cell research that results in the destruction of embryos. The Democrats plan to promote the controversial issue with fervor in areas where there are large medical centers or biotechnology companies, the Chicago Tribune reported March 27. They also plan to use the ads in congressional districts known for politically moderate voters but represented by Republicans known for high-profile opposition to funding the destructive experimentation.
"On one side of the divide is life-saving medical research; on the other side is special-interest politics," DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel said in a written release.
Emanuel, a congressman from Illinois, told the Tribune the issue would enable Democrats to communicate a larger message — Republicans are in favor of the status quo and are obligated to special interests, especially religious conservatives, while Democrats are for progress.
"The notion that you would stop us from finding that cure is fundamental to whether you will offer new priorities or the old priorities that got us here," Emanuel said, according to the Tribune.
Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, denied the issue would make a difference in the races for the House of Representatives. "House races tend to be much more about pocketbook issues," he told the Tribune.
John Green, a University of Akron political science professor and a specialist in the religious influence on elections, told the newspaper Republicans may have problems, since they are divided on the issue.
"If you look at the core religious conservatives, Catholics and evangelicals, it seems unlikely that they would vote for the Democratic candidate, but they might stay home," he said. "And that's always a problem in a close election."
The Democrats need to gain fifteen seats to achieve a majority in the House.
The federal government does not fund stem cell research that destroys human embryos. Extracting stem cells from embryos results in their destruction.
President Bush's policy allows federal funding for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence prior to his August 2001 announcement barring funds for all other stem cell experimentation on embryos. The federal government underwrites experimentation on non-embryonic stem cells (also known as adult stem cells).
Stem cells are the body's master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, providing hope for the treatment of a host of debilitating diseases. While removing embryonic stem cells destroys the tiny human being, extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources — such as cord blood, fat, bone marrow, and placentas — does not harm the donor.
Although most scientists believe embryonic stem cells have more potential for providing treatments for debilitating diseases, so far only non-embryonic stem cells have produced any therapies. Embryonic stem cell research has not only failed to treat successfully any ailments, it has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals. Research on stem cells from non-embryonic sources has produced treatments for at least sixty-seven ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and sickle cell anemia.
Privately funded research on embryonic stem cells is legal and ongoing in the United States.
The evidence continues to mount for the effectiveness of non-embryonic stem cells in treating ailments. In two recent examples:
• The first human recipients of organs developed in the laboratory were reported April 3, when it was revealed bladders had been grown from patients' own adult stem cells. The bladders have shown long-term success in children and teenagers, according to a report from Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
• Scientists at the University of Minnesota have almost totally reversed the impact of strokes in laboratory rats by utilizing stem cells from umbilical cord blood, according to an April 6 report by the National Geographic News.
Researchers at the University of Arizona have found stem cells from cord blood and fat to be nearly as effective as the claims for embryonic stem cells without the moral problem of destroying a human embryo.
"We think cord blood is the next best thing to embryonic stem cells," said David Harris, a microbiology professor and scientific director of Cord Blood Registry, according to the Arizona Daily Star. "These cells are versatile and robust. Neonatal stem cells are fairly equivalent to fetal stem cells, without all the controversy and hindrance."
Stuart Williams, a University of Arizona professor and pioneer in research in stem cells from fat, told the Tucson newspaper, "We've cured almost every single disease there is in mice. Now it's translating it from mice to humans. Fifteen years from now, I foresee patients not needing heart transplants. We'll replace tissue that has become damaged with healthy tissue."