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Stem cells and politics in the US

18 October 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 280

John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in the US, has criticised President Bush's policy on embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research in a weekly Democrat's radio address. On 9 August 2001, Bush restricted federally-funded researchers to working on ES cell lines already in existence by that date. Now, the common consensus among scientists is that fewer of these lines are available than researchers were told, and those that are available are of inferior quality to cell lines created since that date.

In the broadcast, Kerry stated that if he was elected, he would make ES cell research funding 'a top priority in our government agencies, our universities and our medical community'. He called the restriction on research 'a ban that's tied the hands of our scientists and shut down some of our most promising work on spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's and other life-threatening diseases'. He also praised Christopher Reeve, the actor and stem cell research campaigner who died last week, saying that Reeve had left him a message the day before he died which thanked him for highlighting the possibilities of ES cell research in his election campaign.

Meanwhile, surveys last week suggested that public support for California's Proposition 71 is growing. Proposition 71 is a bill that would provide $3 billion in funding for ES cell research within the state. The bill will be voted on in state elections on 2 November, the same day as the US presidential elections take place. If passed, California would become the first US state to publicly fund ES cell research: $295 million in state funds would be provided annually, for ten years, to Californian universities, institutes and companies wishing to conduct ES cell research, subject to certain limits. Proposition 71 would also create a 29-member panel to determine how the funds would be administered.

A poll of 549 Californian voters showed that 46 per cent were in favour of the bill, against 39 per cent opposed. Within these numbers, 58 per cent of voters familiar with the proposals were in favour, which suggests that a multi-million dollar advertising campaign is working. Last week, actor Michael J Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, appeared in an advert that appeared throughout California, urging voters to vote in favour of Proposition 71. In the advert he says that Proposition 71 'will support research to find cures for diseases that affect millions of people', adding 'it could save the life of someone you love'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Actor Michael J Fox to appear in ad promoting Calif. Initiative that would fund human embryonic stem cell research
Kaiser Network |  15 October 2004
Future of humans key factor in battle for future of US
The Scotsman |  18 October 2004
Kerry Faults Bush on Stem Cell Research Restriction in Radio Address
Medical News Today |  18 October 2004
Kerry talks stem cells in radio address
The Seattle Post |  16 October 2004
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