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Bush to announce decision on embryonic stem cell research


CRAWFORD, Texas - After months of deliberations, President Bush will announce his decision Thursday night on whether to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

"The president has carefully considered the scientific and ethical issues involved," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "This is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for our nation 20 to 30 years from now and beyond."

It's one of the biggest decisions of Bush's presidency, pitting many scientists and research advocates against anti-abortion forces.

"I am fairly comfortable with the decision that the president is going to make and I'm very confident that the American people will be as well," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Thompson, who spoke on television before hearing from Bush Thursday and being advised of his decision, has been pushing the president to let the research go forward.

Bush intends to disclose his decision in a 9 p.m. EDT nationally televised address from his ranch, where he is spending a month on vacation. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said the speech would run about eight to 10 minutes.

Even before Bush spoke, it was clear his decision was unlikely to be the last word on the issue. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told reporters that if Bush does not permit federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, the Senate will debate legislation on the subject this fall. He said there is a broad bipartisan majority in the Senate for federal funding.

White House officials coordinated Thursday morning with the Republican National Committee on its weekly conference call with some 30 conservative activists. Republicans described those on the Thursday call, including the Christian Coalition and other groups opposed to embryonic cell research, as eager to know what the decision was _ only to be told there would be no details until the president's address.

As suspense mounted over the last several months, White House aides described the president as deeply engaged in the scientific and ethical issues involved, carefully weighing the issue and seeking a wide range of advice.

McClellan said Bush has met with dozens of experts with opinions across the spectrum, and reached his decision Tuesday. Despite the political stakes, the White House has discounted the role of politics in his deliberations.

"The president does not make decisions by polls," McClellan said. "His focus was on the scientific issues involved, the ethical issues involved.

"It's an important decision for the entire country. Decisions like this involve science, involve ethics. ... They are far-reaching and they are profound."

At issue is federal support for research on cells extracted from embryos that are left over from fertility treatments. Supporters of such research see great potential for medical breakthroughs; opponents insist it is wrong to use human embryos for research. In order to remove the stem cell, the embryo must be destroyed.

Stem cells are capable of developing into any of the body's organs but not into a complete individual. These cells form inside an embryo a few days after fertilization.

By properly nurturing embryonic stem cells, experts say, they believe they can grow new cells to restore ailing organs in chronically ill patients. For instance, new insulin-producing cells could be grown, perhaps to cure diabetes.

"The president wants to share the decision with the American people himself so they can see and hear why he came to the decision he came to," Fleischer said. "He wants to share this directly with the American people."

Bush has wrestled for months with whether to allow the funding. conferring with a list of experts on the scientific, ethical and religious implications of the research.

He has insisted that political considerations were not part of his deliberations. But his announcement is sure to please and disappoint crucial blocs of the electorate. For instance, Roman Catholic leaders, including Pope John Paul II, have strongly urged him to bar the funding.

On the other hand, such conservative, anti-abortion Republicans as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina have called for federal funding of such research because of the potential payoff in treatment of a number of diseases.

Congress has banned funding for research that destroys embryos, but the Clinton administration ruled that the stem cell research was eligible as long as the cells were extracted from the embryos with private money. Bush has delayed such funding while the policy is reviewed.

Some opponents of research into embryonic stem cells support instead the studying of somatic stem cells, which are made by mature tissue. But there is a debate over whether somatic stem cells are as flexible or as long-lived as embryonic stem cells. Many scientists advocate research on both types.

Although the president has avoided tipping his hand on his decision, his wife, Laura, said in a recent CNN interview that embryonic stem cell research could save lives and noted that leftover embryos from fertility treatments are destroyed anyway.

She also made a point noted by stem cell opponents _ that researchers could simply use stem cells from adults, rather than from embryos. "I mean, there is other research _ other ways to get to the same kind of research," she said.

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