Stem cells and politics

When I wrote of opinion as based on fact and emotion, I didn't distinguish public from personal opinion. Politicians each have their own personal opinions, but they must also consider the opinions of the public they serve. Senator Orrin Hatch (R, UT), one of the sponsors of the Senate stem-cell bill, is getting some complaints in Utah. In stating his support of the extension of federal funding to stem-cell lines created from "discarded" embryos, he's directly countering President Bush, who has stated he will veto the bill if it is passed. The bill is so similar to the one recently passed in the House, that the Senate is considering not even discussing the bill but calling for a general vote of support.

Many in Utah, who have always seen Hatch clearly aligned with Bush, are questioning both his political loyalty and his opinion on stem cell research. Hatch has stated that he believes an embryo is only a human after it implants in a uterus; his opinion is a very popular one, but quite contrary to the idea that souls are created by God and endowed with a human body through the fertilization process. Many other faiths also believe that the soul — the "real" essence of a human being — is an integral part of the first cell (the zygote) and that removing cells from an embryo — whatever its age — kills a human being.

This is one of the many questions policy makers and those who provide their opinions in the formation of public policy must consider in the stem-cell debate. Although we are unlikely to agree on when life begins, or when an embryo is a human being, decisions about whether to fund stem-cell research will be based, in part, on our opinions. It seems to me that thinking this out for ourselves and then transmitting our opinions to those who make policy are crucial.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

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