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Stem Cell Research in the Courts and on the Campaign Trail

Embryonic stem cell research has become a hot topic in the courts and in campaigns in several states, including Florida, Wisconsin and Iowa.

On Sept. 28, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., said federally funded stem cell research projects could continue while the appeals court reviews an Aug. 23 district court ruling that halted all federally funded research involving human embryonic stem cells and overturned President Barack Obama’s 2009 executive order increasing the number of stem cell lines scientists could use for federally funded research, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post reported. It could take a year or more for the appeals court to reach a decision, according to the LA Times.

On the campaign trail, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate, voiced support for stem cell research during a Sept. 7 visit to the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Orlando’s Channel 2 NBC News reported. Crist also spoke out in favor of stem cell research when he ran for governor as a Republican in 2006. After taking office, however, he established a state grant that applied only to research on stem cell lines that President George W. Bush had approved for federal funding in 2001, “a move widely interpreted” as an attempt by Crist at “appeasing conservatives on the issue,” according toThe Tampa Tribune. Now running for the Senate as an independent, Crist launched a statewide television ad campaign in early September that cites his support for stem cell research as an example of how he crosses party lines. Meanwhile, Republican candidate Marco Rubio opposes government-funded embryonic stem cell research. Rubio’s campaign website accuses Crist of running “misleading” campaign ads, including the September ad in which he mentions stem cell research. The website cites a Sept. 7 Tampa Tribunearticle to back up the assertion that Crist’s statements supporting stem cell research are inconsistent with his record as governor.  Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek’s campaign website notes that during his eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Meek supported efforts to allow research on human embryonic stem cells.

Gubernatorial candidates in Iowa and Wisconsin are also campaigning on the issue. Iowa Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, said on Sept. 10 that his support for embryonic stem cell research will help him win reelection over Republican challenger and former governor Terry Branstad, according to The Eastern Iowa Gazette. The Gazette reported that Branstad opposes research that results in the destruction of human embryos and believes that research using adult stem cells offers the most promise for scientific progress.

Following the Aug. 23 federal district court ruling on President Obama’s stem cell policy, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democratic candidate for governor of Wisconsin, affirmed his support for stem cell research, noting that “Wisconsin is a global leader in stem cell research that can cure diseases and save lives,” according to The Capital Times. Barrett accused his Republican opponent, Scott Walker, of opposing embryonic stem cell research for “purely ideological reasons,” calling Walker’s position extremist, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Although Walker’s campaign did not respond directly to Barrett’s comments, Walker’s spokeswoman, Jill Bader, said the Republican candidate would only support stem cell research that does not involve destroying human embryos, according to The Capital Times.

In a 2009 poll, the Pew Research Center for People & the Press found that 54% of Americans said it is more important to conduct embryonic stem cell research that might result in new medical cures than it is to avoid destroying the potential life of embryos involved in this research, while 32% said they favor protecting the potential life of embryos over pursuing new medical research. Public attitudes have been consistent on this issue for several years.

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