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  • Writer's pictureSociety of Bioethics and Medicine

The Politics Behind Stem Cell Research

Written by Angel Joseph

Edited by Sanjana Ahmed


When a person gets hurt and damages their skin, head, stomach, etc, adult stem cells prevent the injury from spreading and getting worse. Stem cells are located in the brain, liver, skin, and bone marrow. While they offer new and exciting avenues of research, the controversies surrounding the cells may inhibit their potential. Candidates from both Democratic and Republican parties hold opposing views on this issue which could either be an advantage or a disadvantage during campaign events. People supporting stem cell research have hope that it could lead to brilliant cures in the future. On the other hand, opponents would claim that stem cell transplants, especially embryonic transplants, are abusive and that they could negatively influence the world.


Why Promoting Stem Cell Research Should Be Talked About

One reason why research on stem cells would gradually decrease is because those who are religious and conservative believe destroying the embryo is considered murder and that research done on embryos are scientists’ way of taking over God’s role. Another issue is that people living in various parts of the world don’t have resources which could impact their healthcare systems in an unfavorable way. This could lead to weaker funding for the promotion of stem cell research which could eventually prohibit stem cell research around the world. Much of the political conservation revolving around the topic raises the question of whether or not stem cell research be used in surgeries. Democrats support the research and will provide the appropriate fund. On the other hand, Republicans are actively against the research and continued stem cell research. This plays a critical role in their presidential campaigns and elections.


Role of Religion

Religious voters strongly consider this when voting. They often have the mindset that using transplants, especially embryonic transplants, is considered abusive and is equivalent to the murder of a fetus. Generally, they will support and vote for Republicans as they,“...are more likely than Democrats to favor decreased federal spending on health care (47% vs. 8%) and scientific research (30% vs. 13%) and less likely than Democrats to favor increased federal spending on health care (22% vs. 56%) and scientific research (28% vs. 46%)” (Blendon, Kim, and Benson 2011: pg 3-4). These very findings played a substantial role in the predictions of the 2012 presidential election.

“Most of the Republican candidates have taken positions suggesting that, if elected, they would substantially reduce future federal funding for stem-cell research” (Blendon, Kim, and Benson 2011: pg 1). People who hold these views would most likely vote for Republicans, which would lead to a better voter turnout. In the congressional elections of 2010, 58% of Americans said that they attended religious services/events weekly vote for candidates representing the Republican party compared to the 40% that voted for the Democratic party.


Political Viewpoint

In 1973, the United States government banned funding for embryonic stem cell research. A year later, President Bill Clinton sanctioned governmental funding for the research plan, but he prolonged the research’s ban. President George W. Bush officially banned funding for embryonic stem cell research in August 2001. Almost 5 years later, in July 2006, Bush vetoed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Former President Barack Obama, in April 2009, permitted the government to fund embryonic stem cell research. However, the new rules say that the fund will only be of use if the transplantation is embryonic and if it is being created at in vitro fertilization clinics for reproductive purposes (Forman 2008: pg 10-17).


What’s Next?

Stem cells are now being used for transplants which is a great leap of technological advancement in the medical field. One well known example is a procedure called in vitro fertilization, which is the joining of an egg and sperm externally through chemical processes which is meant to aid those with infertility issues (Regnery, Dederer, Enghofer, Cantz, and Heinemann 2018, p.2). The stem cells are basically an alternative for the true source of fertilization sperm. It has become so progressive that even if both parents don’t have functioning gametes (sex cells) they could have offspring. If a couple is not able to have offspring through reproduction, then in vitro fertilization could be another option for them.

So, where do you stand?


Appendix A: Interview with Dr. Thandavababu Chelliah, MD

A.J. : Stem cell treatments can be very beneficial, however there are some potential risks. How do you feel about the dangerous procedures that implant stem cells in the heart, brain, spinal cord, etc.? As a doctor, what kind of information can you give to researchers that could benefit them in this study?


T.C. : There is a lot of research being conducted on the stem cells. For any new device there are always downfalls. But as time goes by, we’re developing new and more advanced systems which can not only improve the medical field but make lives easier. I believe that as time goes by, we’ll be able to enhance the procedures and make them more danger-free. You can't even imagine what stem cells can do. They have the ability to perform miracles! However, the rest is up to the patients. Whether it’s their attitude toward the procedure, or their reaction toward a medicine shows how well the procedure could work on them.


A.J. : How do you view recent FDA final and draft guidance on homologous use and minimal manipulation of stem cells?


T.C. : Although I hear a lot about this issue, I don’t have a lot of information about the FDA’s role in this case. I do hope that they come to a beneficial conclusion. I can tell you that there are clinics in the world, where the healthcare providers don’t care about the FDA’s policies and take advantage of their vulnerable patients. The terms “homologous use” and “minimal manipulation” can later on reveal the importance of stem cell transplants for the future. I believe that the FDA should inspect everything before it is used. That was how it was always done. It should continue like that. There is no such thing as “privacy” in this field. They have the authority to inspect and we have to accept that for our safety.


A.J. : There are people of Judeo-Christian faith on both sides of this argument of Embryonic Stem Cell Research. Do these views change your perspective on the debate? If so, how?


T.C. : I don’t think religion and medicine should depend on each other. Although, I get patients that are hesitant at times for certain treatments, I try my best to inform them about the advantages that override the disadvantages of stem cells. I have heard that Jews do support stem cell transplants, and it’s great that they do. I like how they’re being open minded about this issue as they feel that this innovation could be something huge in the future.


A.J. : There are other ways to get stem cells, besides embryos, aren’t there? Are they just as effective? To what extent are we exploring those options for the future?


T.C. : There are many different ways to get stem cells, you can get them from somatic cells, sex cells, etc. To my knowledge, the medical field has been trying to develop more efficient methods, and hopefully they will be in effect soon so that we aren’t dependent on one procedure.


Appendix B:


References

Advena-Regnery, Barbara, et al. “Wiley Bioethics.” Framing the Ethical and Legal Issues of Human Artificial Gametes in Research, Therapy, and Assisted Reproduction: A German Perspective, 8 Jan. 2018, pp. 1–13.


Blendon, Robert J, et al. “Perspective.” The Public, Political Parties, and Stem-Cell Research, 17 Nov. 2011, pp. 1–4.


Forman, Lillian. Stem Cell Research. ABDO Publishing Company, 2008.


Lindquist, Susan Barber. “Case Report: Stem Cells a Step toward Improving Motor, Sensory Function after Spinal Cord Injury.” Mayo Clinic, 27 Nov. 2019, newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/case-report-stem-cells-a-step-toward-improving-motor-sensory-function-after-spinal-cord-injury/.


Liso, Arcangelo, et al. “Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation: A Bioethical Lens.” Vol. 2017, 27 June 2017, pp. 1–11.


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