The newly elected Democratic majority on Capitol Hill is pushing for legislation that will overrule President George W. Bush’s strict control over stem cell research funding. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act looks to allow federal funding for stem cell research on embryos donated by in vitro fertilization clinics. It does not attempt to allow research on embryos created solely for research. Last summer Democrats and a minority of Republicans in Congress passed such a bill only to be vetoed by the President. They could not meet the necessary two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to override the veto, and the bill died.
Things look different this time around. The Democrats now hold a 233-202 advantage in the House and a 51-49 advantage in the Senate. Michael Werner and Jonathan Moreno at the Center for American Progress predict that the reintroduced stem cell legislation would be likely to gain 66 votes in the Senate, missing the two-thirds vote by just one vote. The House will be the bigger problem now that many pro- stem cell research Republicans have lost their seats and the newly elected Democrats have yet to offer positions on the topic. Major campaigning will begin by both sides in efforts to sway public opinion, put pressure on House members, and ultimately control this two-thirds majority.
The anti stem cell side will frame the issue in a moral light, arguing that scientists are playing god and killing innocent life. They will bombard the public with the notion that they do not want to be involved in this crossing of ethical boundaries by supporting such acts of atrocities with their tax dollars. The pro-stem cell side will push the message that this research offers hope to millions of Americans. Celebrity commercials, such as the ones with Michael J. Fox, will push that stem cell research provides hope for new cures and social progress. They will ask the public if they would support research that could help a family member with Parkinson’s of Alzheimer’s thus hitting home and making it difficult to refuse such support.
The public knows very little about the science involved in stem cell research. Both sides know that the public will make their decisions based on the frame through which they see the issue, either stem cells lead to new cures or stem cell research is morally wrong, and both are putting massive amounts of pressure on the public. The pro-stem cell side needs to be careful not to go too far in the promises, not to offer false hope, and not to lose public trust. The anti-stem cell side needs to realize that for the first time the Evangelicals, who in the past have been secure in their decision that stem cell research is immoral, and the only group to not offer any support for the research, have now increased their support. Public trust is at risk in this debate. Read more