Has the culture war on stem cells turned into a cold war?

The culture warriors of the Right to Life movement and some of the more radical elements in the Tea Party have waged war on embryonic stem cell (ESC) research and researchers.

Tagging along like some reluctant bride has been the leadership of the Republican Party.

Folks like Mitt Romney and his partner, Paul Ryan, now espouse views opposed to ESC research and in favor of the personhood movement that would literally make a one-celled embryo a human being.

warHowever, those views are not particularly popular for a general election race. Most Americans do not believe in personhood, support women’s rights to abortion (particularly in the case of rape), and support ESC research.

So perhaps it is not entirely surprising then that we do not hear Romney or Ryan or any other prominent Republican leaders attacking ESC research at this time. Alex Seitz-Wald has written an interesting piece at Salon “Stem cells: A culture war gone quiet” that makes this observation. In the past, these culture warriors have gone nuclear on ESC and ESC researchers. Things do seem a bit quieter.

However, I would tell Seitz-Wald from the front line that this war is still very much active. It may be quieter but shots are still fired and the cultural warriors still have no intention of giving up their fight.

Therefore, one might say that the culture war is more of a cold war at this point, but still very much a war. The opponents of ESC are still battling on many fronts. They are trying to use the state legislative process to outlaw funding for ESC work at the state level. They are trying to pass personhood laws in many states that would not only effectively criminalize ESC work, but also abortion and many forms of birth control. They still promulgate anti-ESC propaganda on the Internet. State legislators and governors are trying to make the lives of ESC researchers as difficult as possible.

In addition, there is another element and that is that I believe many people in the stem cell universe are collectively holding their breaths waiting for the federal court decision on federal funding of ESC research, a decision expected no sooner than this fall that I called part of a potential perfect storm that may kill stem cell research. That decision as well as the inevitable appeal to the Supreme Court will in large part define the future of the ESC debate.

But have no illusions…the war still goes on.

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