Opponents of embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research in the US have requested that Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, if elected president, retain President Bush's ban on federal funding for the research. As both White House contenders, McCain and Obama, look to secure Catholic votes, the pro-life movement has intensified its efforts to turn McCain around.
Senator McCain's record so far has been to support efforts to relax the current restrictions on federal funding for ES cell research, which has been prohibited since the ban was introduced by President Bush on 9th August 2001. Only 21 embryonic cell lines are available to state funded stem cell scientists, with critics claiming many of these are unsuitable for research. Legislation to allow federal funds for ES cell research has twice been approved by Congress, only to be vetoed by Bush.
McCain voted in favour of permissive legislation and was even a signatory to a letter sent to Bush by a group of senators asking to relax the restrictions on federal funding. Congressman Mike Castle, who co-sponsored the legislative attempts vetoed by Bush, thinks that McCain's position may be open to change. Speaking to US newspaper The Hill Castle said, 'The question becomes: Will the pro-life movement be able to persuade him otherwise between now and the election?'. David O'Steen, director of the National Right to Life Committee said, 'We'd be hopeful that [McCain will] leave [President Bush's] policy in place.'
The McCain camp has not been clear on the Senator's position on ES cell research, although it did issue a statement saying that McCain believes the issue to be 'academic' - suggesting he believes alternatives to ES cell research will render the ethical debate pointless. Democrat Presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama on the other hand has given his explicit support to ES cell research indicating that if elected president he would introduce permissive measures to remove the ban through executive order.
Meanwhile in Michigan, opponents of ES cell research are preparing their attempt to defeat a measure that appears likely to make the ballot box which, if approved by voters, will relax the state's current restrictions. Speaking against the measure, Michigan Senator Tom George said, 'This proposal is deceptive and is hazardous because it will allow unregulated and unrestricted experimentation on human embryos.' Michigan houses some of the most restrictive laws governing ES cell research with fines of up to $10 million and a ten year prison sentence for scientists who flout the ban. Senator Pam Byrnes, one of the co-sponsors of the measure, explained that the restrictions are forcing Michigan's scientists to conduct ES research in more permissive regulatory environments. 'We are losing our research scientists to other states and to other places,' she said. Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures proposed the Stem Cell Research Ballot Question Committee last October which seeks to amend Michigan's state constitution to permit ES cell research. The measure has collected over 570,000 signatures, well over the 380,000 required for it to be put forward for voters in November. The signatures are currently being approved for authenticity.