WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) Apr 25 - Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told a Senate appropriations subcommittee Tuesday that he does not expect ongoing legal and scientific reviews of policy regarding federal funding of research using stem cells from discarded human embryos to be complete for another 6 weeks.
"Hopefully, I will have both reviews in hand by the end of the first week of June," he told the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education.
Both the subcommittee's chairman, Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and its ranking Democrat, Tom Harkin of Iowa, have been strong supporters of federal funding for the research under guidelines issued last summer by the Clinton administration. "Both Senator Harkin and I are convinced stem cells from embryos are vital for medical research," Specter told Thompson.
Thompson — who supported such research at the University of Wisconsin when he was governor of that state — warned that it "is a very contentious issue." Abortion opponents say the Clinton administration erred in its interpretation that federal funding of embryonic stem cell research could proceed without violating a Congressional ban on embryo research.
Thompson assured Specter and Harkin that even without the current delays, two researchers who have applied for funding "wouldn't have been funded" this year in any case.
The secretary reiterated his earlier personal view that Congress should grant the Food and Drug Administration more authority to regulate the marketing of tobacco to minors. "It's up to Congress," he said, to pass a law, given the Supreme Court's decision that Clinton administration regulations exceeded the agency's statutory authority. But, Thompson added, "FDA should have some regulation, should be able to do it."
Thompson also vowed to work with Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., on ways to address the current shortage of nurses. "I'm very concerned, in particular, about the future of the nursing home industry," he said, which is experiencing a shortage of both nurses and nurse aides. "This probably won't be popular, but we may have to see how we can encourage immigration avenues" to boost the nursing population, he told the subcommittee.
One issue on which
Thompson declined to offer a personal opinion is the fight for funds between
advocates of traditional family planning programs and those advocating
abstinence as the only form of birth control. "The president has taken
a very strong position that they should be treated equally" in terms of
funding, he said. Currently, abstinence programs receive about $93 million
less than programs that offer contraception. "This is something the president
feels very strongly about and we're working on it," Thompson said.
2000 Reuters Ltd.