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The Presidential Bioethics Debate 2012

With the first presidential debate beginning tonight and the race entering the final stretch, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are making their final policy pitches to the American public. While the economy and jobs will dominate much of the discussion, the candidates have significant differences on many health and science policy issues with serious bioethics implications. Here’s a roundup of where they stand.

Biomedical Research and Education

President Obama has vowed to double funding for key research agencies to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation and proposed strengthening STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education by launching a national STEM teacher corp. Governor Romney has also promised to focus government resources on research programs that advance knowledge and technologies that can drive private sector innovation and commercialization


Both President Obama and Governor Romney oppose cloning for human reproduction.

Environment, Climate Change, and Health

President Obama believes that climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing this generation and has called for greater growth in clean energy generation, international collaboration, efforts to reduce America’s dependence on oil, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Governor Romney acknowledges that humans may play a role in global warming but has called for continued debate and investigation within the scientific community. He supports the development of alternative energy sources, but opposes carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, or other policies that he believes would handicap America’s economy.

Health Care Costs

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) signed by President Obama aims to lower consumer costs through a number of provisions, including the small business tax credit, holding insurance companies accountable for how premium dollars are spent, limiting rate increases from insurance companies, and covering preventive care  without copayments. The law also aims to reduce provider and government costs by encouraging the use of electronic health records; creating financial incentives for hospitals to improve quality of care; and encouraging providers to better coordinate care, prevent disease, and reduce unnecessary hospital admissions. Governor Romney believes that competition and a more consumer-driven health care system will reduce costs by forcing providers to offer quality, low-cost care.

Health Care Reform

President Obama believes that the ACA should be fully implemented. Governor Romney has vowed to give waivers to all 50 states on his first day in office and work with Congress to repeal the law. Romney would also give states greater power to regulate local insurance markets and care for their sick; encourage competition among providers and insurers across the health care system; empower consumers to have the information necessary to make decisions about their own health care; make health insurance purchased on the private market tax-exempt (like employer-provided health insurance); and expand health savings accounts.

Medicare Reform

President Obama has vowed to strengthen Medicare to ensure that future generations will have access to it by continuing reforms in the ACA that reduce prescription drug costs, provide free preventive care, and get rid of wasteful spending in the program. Governor Romney has endorsed reforms that, beginning in 2022, give seniors a defined benefit, or “premium support,” and allows them to choose between traditional Medicare and private plans. Romney believes that private competition will decrease costs while improving quality and efficiency of care delivered to seniors.

Pandemics and Biosecurity

President Obama and Governor Romney both acknowledge that new pandemics and biosecurity threats require a robust public health system to prevent the spread of disease. They support private research and innovation to develop countermeasures and treatments and public-private partnerships to assess and address potential vulnerabilities.

Reproductive Health

President Obama supports Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to make personal health decisions. Obama’s administration has issued a rule that guarantees women access to recommended preventive services, including contraception, without cost-sharing while also ensuring that nonprofit religious organizations are not forced to pay for or provide contraceptive services that they object to on religious grounds. Governor Romney believes that life begins at conception. He has said thatRoe v Wadeshould be overturned, states should be able to draft their own abortion laws, and federal funding should be withdrawn from organizations such as Planned Parenthood that provide abortions. Romney opposes the Obama administration’s rule on contraception and had vowed to waive the requirement in all 50 states.

Stem Cell Research

President Obama signed an executive order lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, stating that we must support such research because of its potential to lead to breakthroughs that ease human suffering. Governor Romney opposes embryonic stem cell research, but supports adult stem cell research and alternative methods to derive pluripotent stem cells, such as altered nuclear transfer and direct reprogramming.

A more detailed description of the candidates’ positions and their parties’ platforms on bioethics issues can be found at webpage will be updated regularly to reflect candidates’ statements at campaign events, in the debates, and in interviews.

What do you think about the candidates’ positions on important bioethics issues? Are there some that deserve more attention? Or that are being ignored? Share your thoughts. Submit a comment or a post to Bioethics Forum.  Please also join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #bioethics2012. We will be live-tweeting the presidential and vice-presidential debates as bioethics issues are discussed.

Ross White is the public policy associate at The Hastings Center and a graduate student in philosophy and social policy at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @rossswhite.

Posted by Susan Gilbert at 10/03/2012 05:22:28 PM |

Published on: October 3, 2012
Published in: Uncategorized

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Hastings Bioethics Forum publishes commentaries from a range of perspectives on timely issues in bioethics.


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