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Published: Saturday, 5/21/2005

President won t relax stem-cell restrictions

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON Worried by news reports that South Korean scientists have created 11 new embryonic stem-cell lines for medical research, President Bush yesterday insisted he would veto a measure pending in Congress that would ease restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research in the United States.

The bill could come up for a vote next week. Supporters are cautiously optimistic it will pass; opponents are braced for an emotional battle. But overriding a veto would be difficult.

Mr. Bush has yet to veto any bill after more than four years in office.

I ve made my position very clear on embryonic stem cells. I m a strong supporter of adult stem-cell research, of course. But I have made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is I m against that. And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it.

He said he is concerned about the South Korean research, arguing that unless stopped, such research could lead to a widespread practice of creating human embryos solely for medical experimentation.

The House vote would be on a bill sponsored by Reps. Michael Castle (R., Del.) and Diana DeGette (D., Colo.) to permit federal funding for research on stem cells from embryos leftover from fertility treatments that already were slated for destruction. It would ban anybody from being paid to provide them.

Because stem cells can develop into any cells, researchers hope to develop cures for such debilitating ailments as Parkinson s disease and Alzheimer s disease. But they want to use embryos because there are hundreds of thousands of them in cold storage and because adult stem cells may provide different results, many scientists argue.

Opponents of creating new embryonic stem-cell lines for research, including Mr. Bush, argue that each embryo is a potential human being and medical research using an embryo is morally wrong. Mr. Bush prohibited federal support of research on embryonic stem-cell lines that had not been created by Aug. 9, 2001.

Mr. Castle said the limits have stymied U.S. research and are delaying efforts to find cures for diseases. Siding with him is former first lady Nancy Reagan, whose husband, former President Reagan, had Alzheimer s.

The Castle-DeGette bill is supported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The group s head, Alan Leshner, wrote a letter to Congress yesterday saying the bill offers the first opportunity at a breakthrough in the impasse he says Mr. Bush s ban imposed.

As we have stated in the past and continue to believe, it is only through federal support of research on both adult and embryonic stem cells that we may better understand the potential value and limitations of each type. We owe all those who may be helped by such research in the future to pursue all avenues of potential treatments and cures for serious diseases, Mr. Lesher wrote.

But many anti-abortion groups, such as the Family Research Council, oppose the bill.

Tony Perkins, president of the group, said the South Korean research makes it all the more likely that human beings would be created for experiments.

The White House is all but backing separate legislation, however, that would permit federal funding to research blood from umbilical cords, which would not involve the destruction of human embryos.

The White House is looking favorably on legislation that would maintain the President s principle that human life should not be created for the sole purpose of destroying it, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said yesterday.

We do believe that there is a lot of promise in some of the research in cord blood, as well as adult stem cells, in addition to the human embryonic stem-cell research program that the President authorized. So the President strongly supports that kind of research.

We need to look at the specifics of the kind of bill that s being discussed on cord blood, but we think that that has some real promise, he said.

Next week the House will hear testimony in favor of the stem-cell bill from patients and relatives desperate for a cure from dreaded diseases and testimony against the bill from parents who adopted discarded embryos and whose children would not be alive if their embryos had been destroyed.

Contact Ann McFeatters at:amcfeatters@nationalpress.comor 202-662-7071.



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