Evangelical Interference in Stem Cell Research
    By W. Christopher Epler
    t r u t h o u t | Perspective

    Thursday 28 June 2005

    It's now clear that the stem cell issue isn't between Republicans and Democrats.

    It's between George W. Bush's Evangelical presidency and the religious and scientific convictions of most Americans - as many as 72 percent, according to a recent Harris poll.

    New Mexico was one of 18 key states in a 2004 survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates in which two out of three voters supported overriding the Bush administration's limits on federal funding for stem cell research.

    Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells. Embryonic stem cells hold significantly more healing promise than adult stem cells.

    Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a bishop in the Mormon Church and a vigorous opponent of abortion, announced in 2003 that he would support efforts to lift the president's restriction on embryonic stem cell research. It is research that he sees as "pro-life."

    In March, former Republican Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, another opponent of abortion and an ordained Episcopal minister, told the New York Times that the Republican Party "has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement."

    He also said that attacking proponents of embryonic stem cell research is seeking "to punish people who believe it is their religious duty to use science to heal the sick."

    During a CBS interview May 29, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, when asked when his life started, said, "Well, I'm a lot more concerned, at this point, about when my life is going to end."

    Specter suffers from Parkinson's disease, one of a number of illnesses that might be improved with embryonic stem cell research. He added: "We have two choices here. One is, we use these embryonic stem cells to save lives, or we throw them away."

    On May 24 the Republican-controlled House delivered a sharp rebuke to President Bush, voting 238-194 to expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Specifically, the measure allows funding for research using stem cells that are harvested from frozen embryos at fertility clinics, if the couples who conceived the embryos had already agreed to discard them.

    New Mexico Reps. Tom Udall, a Santa Fe Democrat, and Heather Wilson, an Albuquerque Republican, voted for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Republican Rep. Steve Pearce of Hobbs voted against it.

    Bush has repeatedly threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

    Republican Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, one of the co-sponsors of the House-passed bill, argues: "It is a very basic question of 110 million people - about one out of three in the United States of America - who suffer from a debilitating disease, perhaps diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, all the way through cancer, heart and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, whatever."

    Clearly, this is not a partisan issue. Like the tragic Terri Schiavo case, where a recent ABC News and Washington Post poll indicated 87 percent of the country opposed the politicized Evangelical interventions of Bush and his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, this is a conflict between the sectarian religious opinions of our president and the pluralistic values of American citizens.

    Most Americans are accepting and respectful of the variable religious paths of our neighbors, but few Americans believe that "under God" means "under Bush."

    Not surprisingly, science and medicine are solidly supportive of stem cell research. The American Medical Profession, the National Academy of Science, the National Institutes of Health, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Alzheimer's Association - to name just a few - all support this research.

    Shortly after the 2004 election, Bush spoke of spending his political capital. On the issue of stem cell research, Bush's capital is counterfeit and in conflict with the large majority of Americans.


    This appeared yesterday in the Albuquerque Tribune. Mr. Epler teaches mathematics and statistics at Albuquerque's TVI.