While abortion is the paramount pro-life issue for Catholics, another life issue looms large in the 2008 presidential election: embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR). Where do John McCain and Sarah Palin stand on this issue, and how do their positions compare with the Catholic Church's teaching on stem-cell research?
Sarah Palin's Opposition to ESCR:
Since Sarah Palin's nomination, numerous articles have mentioned her opposition to ESCR. (See, for instance, "A Valentine to Evangelical Base," Boston Globe, August 30, 2008.) In this, the Republican vice-presidential nominee holds views that are consistent with the Catholic Church's teaching on stem-cell research.
Palin's views, however, are at odds with the actions and positions that Republican presidential nominee John McCain has taken in the past.
John McCain's Support for President Bush's "Compromise" on ESCR:
Senator McCain supported President Bush's 2001 "compromise" on embryonic stem-cell research, which allowed federal funding for existing stem-cell lines. The Catholic bishops of the United States opposed this "compromise."
McCain broke with President Bush, however, when he signed a letter on June 4, 2004, asking the President to expand ESCR to include new lines. When the President did not act, he joined 62 other senators in voting on April 11, 2007, to support funding for additional lines, which would have meant the destruction of more embryos. President Bush vetoed the bill.
John McCain During the 2008 Presidential Primaries:
While running for the Republican nomination, Senator McCain maintained his support for expanding funding for ESCR, including new lines. At a Republican debate on May 3, 2007, he replied to a question about ESCR:
I believe that we need to fund this. This is a tough issue for those of us in the pro-life community. I would remind you that these stem cells are either going to be discarded or perpetually frozen. We need to do what we can to relieve human suffering. It's a tough issue. I support federal funding. (Source: On The Issues)
The McCain-Palin Campaign's Issue Statement:
As of September 6, 2008, the McCain-Palin campaign website features a statement on stem-cell research under the title "Addressing the Moral Concerns of Advanced Technology." The second paragraph notes that Senator McCain has opposed the creation of embryos for research purposes, including through human-animal hybrids and cloning. The third paragraph states:
As president, John McCain will strongly support funding for promising research programs, including amniotic fluid and adult stem cell research and other types of scientific study that do not involve the use of human embryos.
A Change or an Equivocation?:
It is hard to tell whether the issue statement represents a change in Senator McCain's position, since it does not explicitly reject ESCR. However, it does seem to indicate that other, morally acceptable forms of stem-cell research will receive priority in a McCain administration. And the final paragraph promises that:
Where federal funds are used for stem cell research, Senator McCain believes clear lines should be drawn that reflect a refusal to sacrifice moral values and ethical principles for the sake of scientific progress, and that any such research should be subject to strict federal guidelines.
The Republican Platform:
The platform adopted at the 2008 Republican Convention also favors funding for non-ESCR forms of stem-cell research, but it does not explicitly rule out further funding for ESCR:
[W]e call for a major expansion of support for the stem-cell research that now shows amazing promise and offers the greatest hope for scores of diseases — with adult stem cells, umbilical cord blood, and cells reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells — without the destruction of embryonic human life. We call for a ban on human cloning and a ban on the creation of or experimentation on human embryos for research purposes.
A Catholic Evaluation of the McCain-Palin Position on ESCR:
Presidential candidates are not bound to follow the platforms of their party, but on the question of ESCR, John McCain and the Republican platform seem in harmony. Since neither explicitly rules out further funding for ESCR or the destruction of more embryos for the creation of new lines, Catholic voters should continue to monitor any statements on ESCR made by John McCain and Sarah Palin. That said, the McCain-Palin campaign's issue statement and the Republican platform are definitely steps in the right direction, promising to ban human cloning and the deliberate creation of embryos for research purposes.