More MS news articles for July 2001

From Nancy Reagan, a Nod Toward Embryonic Stem Cell Research

JUL 13, 2001

WASHINGTON, July 12 Nancy Reagan has privately indicated her support for research on embryonic stem cells, and two of her husband's closest former aides have conveyed her position to senior White House officials, people familiar with Mrs. Reagan's feelings said today.

Many physicians and scientists say such research could help them make significant strides toward a cure for Alzheimer's disease, which afflicts former President Ronald Reagan and millions of other Americans.

And the signals that Mrs. Reagan, the former first lady, has sent the White House underscore how divided the Republican party is on federal support for the research.

The Reagans are perhaps held in the highest regard by the very social conservatives who are urging President Bush to oppose the research. Mrs. Reagan's support for it illustrates how politically complicated the issue is and suggests that if Mr. Bush approves federal financing of the research, he will have defenders and find political cover in unlikely and helpful places.

"This is one of those classic issues that, in a sense, redefines some things," said Connie Mack, the former Republican senator from Florida who opposes abortion but supports the research. Mr. Mack said it made the issue "more confusing" for Mr. Bush when someone like Mrs. Reagan, who never participated in the abortion debate, supported research on embryonic stem cells.

"On the margin, it might have some impact," Mr. Mack said. "But it's hard to quantify."

Two former Reagan aides, Kenneth M. Duberstein and Michael K. Deaver, have met and had telephone conversations with advisers to President Bush over the last six weeks, people who know about the discussions said. They said Mr. Duberstein and Mr. Deaver also met with Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican leader, and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, to share Mrs. Reagan's views and their own.

The meetings of Mr. Duberstein and Mr. Deaver with Congressional leaders were first reported today in The Wall Street Journal. Their discussions on the issue with White House officials have not previously been reported.

Neither Mr. Duberstein nor Mr. Deaver returned telephone messages left with them today. What they have seemingly been doing over the last six weeks, as they talked with other Republicans in Washington and around the country, is trying indirectly to give the Reagans' seal of approval to the research.

Mrs. Reagan has not publicly expressed her feelings about embryonic stem cell research. A spokeswoman for Mrs. Reagan did not return telephone messages left for her last week and today.

Former President Reagan publicly identified himself as an opponent of abortion. But Mrs. Reagan was thought to have private views that were more permissive or at least less clear cut.

"I don't believe in abortion," Mrs. Reagan told students at George Washington University in 1994, nearly six years after her husband left office. "On the other hand, I believe in a woman's choice."

"That puts me somewhere in the middle," she continued, "but I don't know what to call that."

Mr. Bush is expected to decide this month on federal financing for the research.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company