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Generally, people who lean left are supportive of all types of stem cell research, including the rather controversial and stigmatized embryonic stem cell research. This sometimes involves the creation and destruction of embryos, or unborn offspring in the earliest stages of development, in order to harvest stem cells. Although stem cell research is a relatively new frontier in the world of medicine, it has already led to significant advancements within the industry. Stem cells are able to morph into other types of cells and have the potential to regenerate tissue over time, possibly resulting in life-changing treatments for various medical issues. Embryonic stem cells are superior to others because they have the ability to transform into ANY type of cell, not just a select few. The left argues that such invaluable scientific knowledge outweighs the ethical dilemma of retrieving stem cells from human embryos (some might consider the embryo a human with the full right to life).
Congress has had its hands in stem cell research since the 1970s. In the beginning of this policy-making, the majority of actions were in favor of the right’s position and therefore placed restrictions on stem cell research, especially embryonic. Despite these limitations, private researchers continued to work with embryonic stem cells with great success. In 1995, President Clinton banned federal funding for research on embryos created for the sole purpose of experimentation, but authorized funding for research on embryos left over from fertility clinics. During the Bush administration, several attempts were made to expand federal funding, but President Bush vetoed every one. In 2009, however, the left made headway when President Obama reversed many of the restrictions that Bush had implemented during his time in office. Of course, opposition ensued, and a lawsuit was filed against the federal funding expansion, but it was struck down by the United States Court of Appeals. This game of legislative tag still persists today.
The left’s stance on this issue is a prime example of their rationalist values. They avoid referencing any religious notions and instead rely strictly on secular, scientific rationale. For example, John Kerry displayed rationalism while speaking about stem cell research during the 2004 National Democratic Convention: “What if we have a president who believes in science so we can unleash the wonders of discovery like stem-cell research to treat illness and save millions of lives?” Egalitarianism is also evident in their support of stem cell research, as they seek to help out fellow humans by encouraging research that may result in breakthrough discoveries that could cure a multitude of diseases. Additionally, their hope of leading the world in this research and sharing their progress with other countries demonstrates a degree of internationalism. Democrats also want to avoid falling behind in this race of science, so they will not hesitate to make quick policy decisions. Although some may believe science and government should not intertwine (for it may create a conflict of interest), Democrats believe it is a necessary partnership if the country is to make any progress in medicine, technology, and so on. Their mindset is that they need our help and we need their help, so it is a mutually beneficial relationship. Lastly, democrats have also proposed making stem cell donations an option for women in abortion clinics, which demonstrates their emphasis on individual liberties and the right to control one’s own body.
For the most part, those on the right side of the spectrum condemn embryonic stem cell research but support other types. The most common reason for their opposition relates to morality, as they feel it is their obligation to protect the welfare of all life, including embryos. For instance, Republican Jeb Bush, among many other conservatives, has said that using embryos for research is a form of disrespect towards life. They are especially upset by the idea of creating human embryos in a lab for experimentation and ultimately destruction. In their eyes, it is essentially using human life as a means to an end. Another concern regarding this research is that it may lead to more dehumanizing practices and institutions.
The early 2000s saw the most political action concerning this issue, with the right leading the way. In 2001, President Bush made a major decision to defund most embryonic stem cell research. This policy did not affect private or state-funded research. Bush continued to maintain this policy for the remainder of his time in office. However, there were several close calls. In 2005, President Bush utilized his veto power for the first time to cancel The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which passed in Congress with strong bipartisan support. However, Congress was not deterred and attempted to pass a similar act in 2007, but again, Bush immediately vetoed it. These vetoes mark the end of any activity on behalf of the Bush Administration. Earlier this year, President Trump announced that employees at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can no longer conduct research with human fetal tissue, and academic researchers seeking grants will face new restrictions. This has been the most recent political effort as of late, so the right is currently the victor of this debate.
Undoubtedly, faith is the most influential factor behind conservative rationale on this issue. Since the right largely follows a Christian or catholic denomination, their argument stresses the importance and dignity of human life, which the bible tells them begins at conception. Therefore, most on the right are strongly against research that derives stem cells from human embryos. Not only do traditional religious texts heavily influence the right’s decision-making, but so do modern-day religious leaders. In a 2006 international address, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The destruction of human embryos to harvest stem cells is not only devoid of the light of God but is also devoid of humanity and does not truly serve humanity.” Simply put, both the left and right agree that human life should be respected and disease cured, they just disagree on the point at which human life begins. The right’s point of view is also reflective of their elitist nature, as they are trying to project their own subjective religious/moral beliefs onto others using political power. Nationalism is also evident in their reasoning because they believe they are working in the best interest of the nation. Finally, because those on the right are not huge proponents of change, they seem to lack enthusiasm about this issue as it is new and would require lots of policy change.
Finally, we are left with Americans who identify as moderate, meaning they are in the center of the ideological spectrum. Moderates believe politics can be too ideological/polarized and instead choose to consider both sides of complex issues and hopefully reach a compromise. When it comes to this debate, moderates generally support all types of stem cell research. Again, if one isn’t heavily religious, one likely supports all stem cell research, and most moderates are not heavily religious.
In order to meet in the middle and satisfy both sides, moderates propose temporarily using embryonic stem cells until other sources are available. Recently, scientists have discovered a way to manipulate and reprogram normal adult cells so they resemble embryonic cells, which may transform the field by reducing the need for embryos. Not only would moderates give this full support, but so too would liberals and conservatives. Another bipartisan compromise that moderates endorsed when this debate was in full swing was only granting funds for research involving embryos produced in excess in fertility clinics. Conservatives know that in vitro fertilization is not morally wrong as it gives those an opportunity to bear children that otherwise would not be able to. However, the overproduction of embryos is inevitable and necessary for a greater chance of success. This proposal allowed conservative’s moral beliefs to be heard, while also encouraging much-needed medical advances. In 2005, this compromise, known as The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, passed in both the house and the senate. Despite strong bipartisan support, President Bush vetoed it, citing mainly ethical reasons.
To me, the most troublesome arguments are those involving religion. Conservatives typically endorse Abrahamic monotheistic religious views, including in this debate, which is not very representative of the society we live in. I find it dangerous and non-inclusive to make political arguments based on a narrow range of subjective beliefs. In fact, this is why the framers of the Constitution explicitly wrote that the powers of church and state must be kept separate. Bush relentlessly undermined this separation that the framers so heavily stressed. The way in which he justified and framed his decisions clearly stemmed from a spiritual, religious background. For example, he defended his position by saying “we must always ask what is right” and “pursue medical research with a clear sense of moral purpose.”
Furthermore, many conservatives argue that just because they don’t want embryonic research publicly funded, does not mean it won’t be allowed. However, the majority of medical research occurs on college campuses, which are public institutions that require public funding and government grants. Therefore, by denying funding, they would be shutting down most of the research, so this argument is insufficient and deceptive.
On a personal note, I am extremely supportive of stem cell research, especially now that we have uncovered ways of converting adult stem cells back to a state that resembles embryonic stem cells. However, despite this discovery, scientists still emphasize the importance of embryonic stem cells. Richard Hynes, a chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stated, “It is far from clear at this point which types of cell types will prove to be the most useful for regenerative medicine, and it is likely that each will have some utility.” So, even if embryonic stem research is necessary, I hold that the medical advantages far outweigh the ethical quandaries. Although I am not religious, I am glad that the ethics and morality of the practice are questioned, because it would be dangerous to have a medical field that did not have to face any restrictions or challenges. It is always best to proceed with caution and take all sides into account before taking action. I think now we should focus more on research concerning those adaptable adult stem cells, and reverse the few remaining restrictions set in place during the Bush era. This field of medicine seems to have very exciting potential, however, it seems we won’t see much clinical progress for another few decades, especially with the lack of funding.
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