For the fourth time in five years, there's an embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) initiative on a state ballot. Michigan's proposal, unlike California's $3 billion and 13,000 word behemoth, is modest. "Proposal 2" would merely remove the state's ban on the derivation of embryonic stem cell lines. It would not commit any public funds and would maintain the state's prohibition on cloning-based stem cell research. Michigan's current policy is among the nation's most restrictive, and is out of line with its socially moderate-to-liberal population. Unlike past state measures, this one clearly warrants passage. But unfortunately, once again, both sides are engaging in dangerous hyperbole.
The backers of Proposal 2 include the typical coalition of biotech, patients and families, pro-choice, and economic development groups. They pull the heartstrings with personal stories of people with diseases that may be treated. (See, for example, the press release titled "Paralyzed 19-year-old asks voters to back Prop 2.") But the actual use of potential embryonic stem cell therapies is currently legal in the state, as is research using cell lines derived elsewhere. Thus, the claims that removing the state's restrictions via Proposal 2 would make treatments much closer and greatly reduce health care costs [PDF] - especially for residents of Michigan - is tenuous. Furthermore, Proposal 2 is unlikely to boost the state's beleaguered economy. It's unlikely to pave the way for a significant influx of biotechnology jobs, as human embryonic stem cell research remains a tiny fraction of the biotech sector, which in turn is concentrated on the coasts.
Proposal 2's opponents are limited to supporters of the moral status of embryo, and are largely religious. They start with a good argument, but citing a passage in the proposal Proposal 2 that would prevent future state policies from infringing upon beneficial ESCR. But its other clauses, particularly those which cite the primacy of federal law and the current prohibition on cloning, would prevent potential abuses.
But a recent move by these opponents, who oppose stem cell research that destroys human embryos, is unacceptable. A new advertisement compares ESCR to the notorious Tuskegee study, in which poor black men with syphilis were observed for years without treatment. Not only is this offensive, but it is unwise. Such extreme posturing will not win the undecided middle, and will likely alienate its members.
The most recent public opinion poll favors Proposal 2, but is within the margin of error.
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
Posted in Biopolitics, Parties & Pundits, Jesse Reynolds's Blog Posts, Stem Cell Research, The States
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