As a state , Utah is proud of its commitment to advanced science and technology. There are various state agencies, universities, and informal organizations that contribute at both the state and national levels to science research in its many diverse dimensions. In addition to groups such as the Utah Science Center, there is also a State Advisory Council for Science and Technology, along with a number of informal science education organizations that raise the role of science throughout the state. At the higher-research end, important investigations are carried out at the University of Utah, Brigham Young University,and Utah State University, among the higher education establishments.
Within this wide research gamut, stem cell research is increasingly becoming one of the most important and challenging avenues of current scientific and medical exploration. Utah participates at the highest ranks in exploring the wide range of stem cell investigations that offer hope in the pursuit of cures for a variety of diseases such as amy-otrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal injuries, blindness, and HIV/AIDS, as well as many others.
The public in Utah is also familiar with the idea that stem cells are the basic building blocks for human development and, as such, they hold great potential in the search for new therapies to treat many ailments currently causing great pain and suffering. The costs for such treatments are equally staggering. Given Utah’s dominant Mormon faith and the national debate concerning religious or ethical objections to the use of embryonic stem cells in research, it is worth noting that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has avoided defining when life begins and has been open to the process of stem cell research.
In effect, the church has remained essentially neutral in regard to the continuing ethical and moral debate. In a 2001 poll, 62 percent of Utah’s citizens, 56 percent of the state’s Mormons, and 47 percent of the state’s conservative have given their endorsement to this type of research. Further, all Mormons sitting in the U.S. Senate, including senators Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett, who are Republicans from Utah; Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho; and Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, have backed federal funding for many types of stem cell research. This position is clearly at odds with certain right-to-life objections as expressed by other conservative Protestant religious forces, as well as the Vatican.
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has, for many years, been a persistent voice in the pro-stem cell research camp, both within the state and nationally. Hatch has approached the subject from a generally pro-life, pro-family position. From his perspective, although rejecting cloning, he believes that there is evidence that stem cell biomedical research has a vital place to play in combating disease and in providing hope for many people suffering sickness and suffering. Being truly pro-life, in his opinion, demands that one help the living, and the best way to do this is to support those programs that are striving to wipe out these devastating conditions.
Furthermore, Hatch has endorsed federal funding for such research and for the use of nuclear transfer procedures, in certain instances, which involve the removal of genetic material from an egg cell and transferring it to an adult cell. From this stage, there is the potential for further scientific advances and applications that may, in time, help the 100 million Americans who might benefit from regenerative therapies. Hatch sees this work as important and believes that life begins in the womb and not the laboratory. In addition, Hatch argues such research is vital to Utah’s place in the scientific community and that the 400,000 frozen eggs that are not used as part of in vitro fertilization should not be discarded but, instead, be used for embryonic research. Failure to participate in embryonic stem cell research would allow the state to fall behind other states, which could be clearly detrimental to Utah’s advancement and position. Utah’s universities and research facilities are currently pursuing valuable projects. Without maintaining the funding for these programs, vital research could be lost, and enterprising scientists might move out of state, which would be a severe blow to the state’s reputation and future development.
Stem cell research is particularly important to facilities such as the Huntsman Cancer Institute, the Genetic Science Learning Center, and the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Utah, all of which are very much involved in exploring stem cell technologies and the possible medical applications for such technologies. The Genetic Sciences Learning Center Web site has received national awards for the quality of its information and the effectiveness of its programs to disseminate the latest news pertaining to genetic research. In this way, a flow of information is kept in the public’s eye. Likewise, Brigham
Young University also maintains active research programs and fully endorses the progress being made in this line of research. This university also backs campaigns to deliver federal as well as state funding support for embryonic stem cell research. These programs include work on several varieties of adult stem cell transplants as well as research involving umbilical blood stem cell transplants, all of which offer potential treatments for a number of serious illnesses.
Utah, although a conservative state with a number of ethical and legal prohibitions on out-side-the-womb experimentation, particularly in regard to human cloning, has nevertheless realized the importance of continued scientifically based funding for stem cell research. With projected state population growth, the higher education sector and the business community see that such funding is necessary to expand the kind of infrastructure necessary for modern science and also draw new private investment for scientific clusters that can lead the way toward sustained technological growth. With the development of new breakthroughs, such as in the reprogram-ming of adult skin cells, some of the embryonic moral issues might in time be surmounted, which provides encouragement for those within the state community who still have moral reservations with regard to stem cell technology.