Touting a particular cure for dread diseases seems an odd way to campaign for president of the United States. But Democratic candidate John Kerry thinks that it may just get him over the line in November's election. On the third anniversary this week of President Bush's decision to limit Federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, Senator Kerry and his running mate John Edwards are promising to lift the restrictions and “say yes to knowledge, yes to discovery and yes to a new era of hope for all Americans”. Senator Edwards has also promised Democratic backing for therapeutic cloning.
In a year in which voters are highly polarised, the Democrats hope that stem cell research is an issue which will tip undecided voters into the Kerry camp. “Voters are not going to fully appreciate in a short campaign the complexity of the medical and biological implications of this,” says G. Terry Madonna, a political analyst. “But what is important is if Kerry can frame this as the Bush people opposing science, opposing medicine, hurting people who have a chance to live longer or cure diseases.”
President Bush, however, insists that stem cell research is a moral issue, not merely a scientific one. “The president isn't just taking a look at the science,” says Jay Lefkowitz, a former Bush adviser. “If all we did was focus on the science, we would harvest the organs of people who are terminally ill or people on death row.”
The issue is hottest in California, where voters will also be deciding whether their state should invest US$3 billion into stem cell research over the next ten years. Supporters of Proposition 71 have raised almost $7 million, while their opponents have barely scraped together $50,000. The opposition charges that it is an effort by venture capitalists to fund research which will benefit California's biotech industry. According to the Mercury News, venture capitalists and their spouses have donated at least $2 million to the stem cell campaign.
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