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Will Bush Lose Over Stem Cells?

By Ronald Bailey - August 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Three years ago President Bush made his first national television prime time address in August 2001 to the nation on the topic of human embryonic stem cells. Who would have thought that the controversy over little balls of a hundred or so cells might make the difference between another Bush Administration and a Kerry Administration? Yet it might well.

In 2001, Bush was attempting a political balancing act -- allowing research to go forward in this area while mollifying his pro-life political supporters. So Bush limited federal funding to only human embryonic stem lines that had been derived before his August 9, 2001 speech. New polls show that Bush's balancing act failed. Naturally, the Democrats have not been shy to hammer him on this issue.

According to recent poll by the Economist, 65 percent of Americans favor dismantling "potentially viable human embryos" to obtain stem cells for research on possible cures for a host of ailments including diabetes, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries and heart disease. Earlier this month, a University of Pennsylvania National Annenberg Election Survey asked 1,345 adults, "Do you favor or oppose Federal funding of research on diseases like Alzheimer's using stem cells taken from human embryos?" Sixty-four percent said they favored such funding, while 28 percent opposed it.

What's even more interesting is that Americans have consistently supported federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. As far back as July 2001, a Harris poll conducted before Bush set his limits on stem cell research found that 61 percent of Americans who had seen or heard something about stem cell research favored using leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization as sources of stem cells.


The Kerry campaign has needlessly distorted the stem cell issue -- there is no "far-reaching ban on stem cell research" as this official campaign press release claims. Private companies are free to conduct whatever research they wish using stem cells, just not with federal funds. Still, the bottom line political lesson here is that Americans strongly support medical research that they believe could someday help them or their loved ones. After November, Bush and his supporters may have plenty of time to reflect on this fact.

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent.


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