More MS news articles for July 2001

Pressure Increases on Bush Administration About Funding Stem Cell Research

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) Jul 03 - As President Bush prepares to make a final decision on whether to allow federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells, the Bush administration is coming under increasing pressure from groups on both sides of the debate.

In the latest development, three prominent Republicans have expressed their opposition, saying the government should not support this "industry of death" even if it does lead to disease cures.

The administration should prohibit federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and promote studies on stem cells from adult tissues, House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas), Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Republican Conference Chairman J. C. Watts (R-Oklahoma) said in a statement.

Despite the opposition, administration officials recently revealed that the White House is leaning toward a plan that would permit government-funded research using discarded embryos, similar to the plan previously adopted by the Clinton administration.

Bush put that Clinton policy on hold after taking office, while searching for a plan of his own. However, the White House is now being pressured even by some antiabortion Republicans, including conservative Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), to allow federal funding of stem cell research.

"Stem cell research facilitates life," said Hatch, who in a 12-page letter to the White House also detailed his antiabortion record. "Abortion destroys life; this is about saving lives."

Also on record now as supporting federal funding are conservative Republicans Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina) and former senator Connie Mack (R-Florida), as well as more than a handful of moderate Republicans, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) and Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island).

However, there is a chance that Bush might take a more conservative stance. Among those opposing federal funding is key Bush advisor Karl Rove, who reportedly has warned Bush against allowing for the federal funding because it would anger Catholic voters.

Catholic voters traditionally are a key group of swing voters.

In recent polls, the majority of Catholics have expressed support for federal funding of stem cell research. But the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) has taken a staunch stand against embryonic stem cell research in general and federal funding for this type of research in particular. NCCB says the practice is tantamount to abortion, despite the fact that the embryonic cells would otherwise be discarded.

"Even the Clinton Administration's guidelines for embryonic stem cell research insist that parents donating embryos for this research must be told that the embryos will not survive the harvesting process," noted Richard Doerflinger, NCCB's associate director for policy development.

NCCB said that in its own poll it found that the majority of Catholics oppose federal funding for embryonic stem cell research when they are informed that embryos would be destroyed. Polls indicating otherwise are creating a false illusion based upon poorly constructed questions, Doerflinger said.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) recently introduced legislation calling for heavier investment in research using stem cells obtained from adults (see Reuters Health report, June 8). But some advocates of embryonic stem cell research say it is too early to tell whether adult stem cells can offer the same benefits as embryonic cells.

"In light of that uncertainty, it would be bad public policy for political figures to substitute their judgment for that of medical researchers," Dan Perry, a founding member of the Patients Coalition for Urgent Research (CURe), told Reuters Health. "Patients eager for relief will be best served by public funding and public accountability that allows scientists to make speedy progress by pursuing all reasonable avenues of stem cell research."

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Ltd.