Arlen Specter Reaffirms McCain’s Support for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

By Terence P. Jeffrey and Matt Hadro | September 25, 2008 | 11:55pm EDT

Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign has enlisted the aid of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in reaffirming McCain's support of taxpayer funding for embryonic stem cell research.

( - Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign has enlisted the aid of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in reaffirming McCain’s support of taxpayer funding for embryonic stem cell research in the face of an Obama for President campaign radio ad that accuses McCain of not supporting stem cell research.

“The fact is John McCain has been a champion for stem cell research, which holds the promise of curing devastating diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease,” Specter said in a press release put out by the McCain campaign on Wednesday. “John McCain bucked the majority of our party in standing strong with me in urging the Bush Administration to lift restrictions on stem cell research, and last year voted to overturn the Bush policy.”

The release said Specter’s statement was intended to rebut “Barack Obama's misleading new radio ad on stem cell research, which is airing in the Philadelphia suburbs.”

The Obama ad says: “Stem cell research could unlock cures for diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's too.  But John McCain has stood in the way … he's opposed stem cell research.”

Specter’s statement that McCain “last year voted to overturn the Bush policy” on stem cell research is a reference to the April 11, 2007 vote on S.5, The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.  This is a bill that would have compelled the secretary of Health and Human Services to “conduct and support research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells … derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.”

The bill was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and co-sponsored by Specter.  McCain was one of 13 Republicans who joined with 50 Democrats in voting for it.  President Bush vetoed it.

McCain had also joined with Specter and most Senate Democrats to vote for the same bill in 2006.  Bush also vetoed it that year.

“If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers for the first time in our history would be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos,” Bush said in his 2006 veto message to Congress.

“Crossing this line would be a grave mistake and would needlessly encourage a conflict between science and ethics that can only do damage to both and harm our Nation as a whole,” said Bush.  “Advances in research show that stem cell science can progress in an ethical way. Since I announced my policy in 2001, my Administration has expanded funding of research into stem cells that can be drawn from children, adults, and the blood in umbilical cords with no harm to the donor, and these stem cells are currently being used in medical treatments.”

To make it clear that he was reaffirming McCain’s support for embryonic stem cell research and not just other types of stem cell research, Specter (in the McCain for President press release) specifically pointed to the two bills Bush vetoed.

The McCain press release also quoted prior statements from McCain urging President Bush to abandon his opposition to using tax dollars to fund stem cell research that requires the destruction of human embryos.

It included these subheadings:  “John McCain Has Strongly Supported Stem Cell Research, Voting Against Majority Of His Own Party,” and “In April 2007, John McCain Voted ‘To Reject Restrictions President Bush Has Placed On’ Stem Cell Research.”

The release concluded with a quote from a letter McCain and 57 other senators sent to President Bush in 2004, expressly urging the president to abandon his opposition to embryonic stem cell research.

"We write to urge you to expand the current federal policy concerning embryonic stem cell research,” McCain and the other senators wrote Bush, according to the McCain campaign’s press release.  “As you know, embryonic stem cells have the potential to be used to treat and better understand deadly and disabling diseases and conditions that affect more than 100 million Americans, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, and many others.”

In a personal plea to voters in the Philadelphia area included in the press release, Specter applauds McCain as a maverick who has bucked his own party on the issue of stem cell research.

"Delaware Valley voters deserve the truth: On stem cell research and so many other issues, John McCain is a maverick who always puts his country first,” Specter said. “As president, he'll advance the cause of potentially lifesaving medical research that can free families from the fear and devastation of illness."

The question of whether McCain was changing—or finessing--his position on stem cell research (and moving toward the Republican Party platform position which flatly opposes research that kills human embryos) was raised by a radio ad the McCain campaign released two weeks ago.

That ad--paid for by both the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC)--said McCain would “invest millions more” in “[s]tem cell research to unlock the mystery of cancer, diabetes, heart disease” and other health problems.  It did not specify, however, whether McCain was talking about adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells, or both.

Over the past week, repeatedly queried the McCain campaign and the RNC asking whether or not the ad’s promise to “invest millions more” in stem cell research included embryonic stem cell research. Neither the campaign nor the RNC ever answered these inquiries.

On September 12, a McCain campaign spokesman did answer the question for The Hill newspaper.

“The omission [of not specifying what type of stem cell research the ad was promising to “invest millions more” in] is not a signal that McCain is backing away from his record in favor of embryonic stem cell research, spokesman Brian Rogers said,” The Hill reported. “‘Clearly, John McCain supports it,’ he [Rogers] said, emphasizing that the ad is intended to refer to all forms of stem cell research, including experiments using human embryos and those using cells from adults.”

Kellie Ferguson, executive director of the Republican Majority for Choice, also told that she believed this ad was intended to include support for embryonic stem cell research.

“It’s our understanding that Sen. McCain’s spokespeople came out strongly reiterating that he does support embryonic stem-cell research as soon as the ad came out and the ad was targeted at all stem-cell research,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson’s understanding was borne out not only by the McCain press release featuring Specter reaffirming McCain’s support for embryonic stem cell research, but also by the answers to a questionnaire that McCain submitted on September 15 to an organization called Sciencedebate 2008.

The questionnaire asked: “What is your position on government regulation and funding of stem cell research?”

McCain responded: “While I support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, I believe clear lines should be drawn that reflect a refusal to sacrifice moral values and ethical principles for the sake of scientific progress. Moreover, I believe that recent scientific breakthroughs raise the hope that one day this debate will be rendered academic. I also support funding for other research programs, including amniotic fluid and adult stem cell research which hold much scientific promise and do not involve the use of embryos.  I oppose the intentional creation of human embryos for research purposes and I voted to ban the practice of ‘fetal farming,’ making it a federal crime for researchers to use cells or fetal tissue from an embryo created for research purposes.”

(See the McCain press release featuring Sen. Arlen Specter promoting McCain’s support for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research: )

(See the Sciencedebate 2008 questionnaire: )

(See the script of the Obama radio ad accusing McCain of not supporting stem cell research: )

(See the script of the McCain radio ad promising to “invest millions more” in stem cell research: )

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