New Jersey's $450 million bond issue to fund stem cell research was the highlight of the recent otherwise ho-hum election. This referendum was defeated by a solid 53-47% margin which was a surprise to nearly everyone. The defeat has reverberated around the nation because New Jersey is considered to be a "liberal" state which should have made passage easy.
Various reasons have been given to explain the defeat. The most prevalent explanation is that N.J. voters, fed up with high taxes, budget deficits, and fiscal mismanagement, simply registered a protest against Trenton politicians. Considering that the state has been a bi-partisan fiscal mess for a long time, this explanation may be just a little too pat.
Considering the controversial nature of stem cell research, it seems more likely that most voters' motivation on this issue had little to do with state finances and a lot to do with individual conviction. On this, it is generally assumed that a yes vote means support for stem cell research, while a no vote indicates opposition.
But the issue here is not stem cell research as such, but the morality of "public" financing of it. My "no" vote on this bond issue was based primarily on the belief that opponents of stem cell research should not be forced to pay for something that contradicts their beliefs (religious or not). In addition, proponents of stem cell research should be willing to fund such research as private individuals through donations, direct investments in private companies, or some other means. They have no right to impose the costs of their beliefs on others through the taxing powers of the state.
I make these comments as a strong supporter of this very promising area of medical research. All aspects of stem cell inquiry, including embryonic, should proceed unfeddered. I do not believe that an embryo is a human being. An actual, living , breathing person is. An embryo is, in fact, a potential human being, and to the extent that embryonic study yields treatments to alleviate the suffering and/or prevent the deaths of actual human beings makes this area of research highly moral; moral, that is, if man's life is the standard of value.
Never-the-less, to support stem cell research on the basis of man's value while trampling on the rights of those who may disagree is a contradiction in terms and negates the moral argument in its favor. Public (i.e., coercive) funding of stem cell research is a violation if an individual's right to act on his own judgement and is therefore immoral.
I don't know how many people view this issue as I do, but my vote against the $450 million stem cell research bond issue (public question #2) for the above-stated reasons just may be one explanation for its defeat.
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