Conservative ideology see’s embryonic stem cells as human life, due to the fact that the embryos used are fertilized eggs. This may seem like an extreme position to take but conservatives see embryonic stem cell research as simply another extension of the larger abortion issue, both of which deal with the morality of fertilized eggs prior to viability. Until recently conservative policies in place prevented funding for stem cell research and scientists have had to turn toward fertility clinics as a source of embryos for embryonic stem cells. One of these clinics was an in-vitro fertilization clinic, where the modern techniques used for in-vitro fertilization cause the creation of a large portion of leftover embryos that are destroyed, while many are frozen indefinitely or donated to stem-cell research (Kinsley, 2004). Conservative ideological policies such as these are now poised to be overturned by the Democratic majority in the new 2009 congress, according to statements made by President Obama, during the 2008 Presidential Campaign.
Another obstacle in the path of embryonic stem cell research is the political interference coming mainly from the Republican Party. Over the last eight years scientists such as Doug Melton, who works out of Harvard University, have needed to make arrangements with a fertility clinic in Boston, Massachusetts to collect embryos that have been donated by couples. “Melton, whose two children have juvenile diabetes--a disease he believes could potentially be cured by stem cells--says he tried to use government-approved cell lines ($5,000 per vial) for his research, but he found them difficult to obtain and questioned their quality.” (Kelb, 2004).
In 2005, New Jersey Governor James McGreevy announced the creation of a New Jersey Stem Cell Institute, which will cost $50 Million over the next five years and will be funded by the state (“Hype,” 2005). The reason private institutions and state governments need to take these actions is due to the lack of federal funding for the field of stem cell research. Countries such as Korea, China, and Russia currently permit stem cell research. The restrictions that are placed on scientists in the United States only hurt our ability to be competitive and innovative in this new and growing field of medical science. Instead of being a world leader in the breakthroughs of embryonic stem cell research, we are looking backwards and allowing other nations to take up the mantle of research.
The one of the last obstacles to the advancement of embryonic stem cell research in the United States would be the use of stem cell research as a political wedge issue; this is most pronounced during an election year, where a Republican and a Democrat run against each other. In many ways the reason this becomes a wedge issue is because the core base of the Republican Party is made up of conservative ideologues. Embryonic stem cell research becomes a red meat issue, which Republicans can bring up during an election to galvanize their base for more money and support.
The fact that this is a field of medical science, which could potentially cure or ease the suffering of thousands of people, is under attack by a theistic, rigid, and ideological part of our society, who attempt to assign rights to embryos as though they were human beings. This ideological opposition does not stop at stem cell research, as witnessed when former President Bush, handpicked Leon Kass to be the chairman of his bioethics panel in January 2002. “Kass has problems with, among other things, dissection of cadavers, organ transplantation, cosmetic surgery, body shops, laboratory fertilization, surrogate wombs, gender-change surgery," he wrote in his book "Toward a More Natural Science.” (Salon, 2004).
I think that until we come to a point in our society where we say enough and stop putting political agendas and conservative ideological views above the medical needs of human beings, people will continue to languish and suffer. Political interference in stem cell research, conservative ideological arguments, and the use of stem cell research as a political wedge issue may continue in the short-term, but I think with the new Democratic Congress and White House we may see a turn of the tide in this important field of medical research.
Hype over experience. (2005, September). Economist, 376(8445), pp. 80-80.
Kelb, C. (2004, March). Brand-new stem cells. Newsweek, 143(11).
Kinsley, M. (2004, May). The false controversy of stem cells. Time Magazine,
Manjoo, F (2004). Thou shalt not make scientific progress. Salon.com, (2). Retrieved
February 8, 2009 from http://dir.salon.com/story/tech/feature/2004/03/25/stem_cells/index.html