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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 4:15 p.m., Friday, August 9, 2001

Bush to allow limited stem cell research

Decision sparks local debate about stem cell research
• Join our discussion: Did President Bush make the right decision?

Associated Press

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush announced support today night for federal funding for limited medical research on embryonic stem cells, a decision he said balanced concerns about "protecting life and improving life."

"I have made this decision with great care and I pray it is the right one," Bush said in the first prime-time speech of his presidency.

Key points in President Bush’s decision as provided by the White House:

• Federal funding of research using existing embryonic stem cell lines is consistent with the president’s belief in the fundamental value and sanctity of human life.
• Federal funds will only be used for research on existing stem cell lines that were derived: (1) with the informed consent of the donors; (2) from excess embryos created solely for reproductive purposes; and (3) without any financial inducements to the donors.
• No federal funds will be used for: (1) the derivation or use of stem cell lines derived from newly destroyed embryos; (2) the creation of any human embryos for research purposes; or (3) the cloning of human embryos for any purpose.
• The president will create a new President’s Council on Bioethics, chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, an expert in biomedical ethics and a professor at the University of Chicago, to study the human and moral ramifications of developments in biomedical and behavioral science and technology.

Citing the promise of breakthroughs in fighting diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes, Bush said he would approve federal funding, but only for existing lines of embryonic stem cells. That would restrict research to cells from embryos that already have been destroyed.

The president, an opponent of abortion, said he would prohibit the use of federal funds to create any new lines of human embryonic stem cells. He said it was important that "we pay attention to the moral concerns of the new frontier."

Even though he sought middle ground on the complex political and moral issue, Bush's remarks triggered criticism, muted from supporters of research, forceful from opponents.

"The trade-off he has announced is morally unacceptable," said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It allows our nation's research enterprise to cultivate a disrespect for humasn life."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a supporter of research, welcomed Bush's decision as "an important step forward." But, he added, "it doesn't go far enough to fulfull the life-saving potential of this promising new medical research."

Despite claims from some conservative critics, White House aides insisted the president had not broken a campaign pledge. Running for the White House, Bush said he "opposed research that involves destroying a living human embryo."

At issue was whether the government should support research on stem cells removed from embryos that are left over from fertility treatments. Supporters of such research see great potential for medical treatments. Opponents insist it is wrong to use human embryos for research. Bush, as a candidate, opposed federal funding for research that destroys human embryos.

There are about a dozen embryonic stem cell lines now in existence, experts say, but some of them could not be used in federal research because they were not produced within the rules set by the National Institutes of Health.

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 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.

Congress has banned government money for stem cell research that destroys embryos. But the Clinton administration ruled that such research could receive federal funding as long as private money financed the part of the process that actually destroyed the embryo — the extraction of the stem cells. Bush delayed such funding while he reviewed the policy.

"This is a serious, difficult issue that the president has approached in a deliberate and thoughtful manner over the course of the last several weeks and since the beginning of this administration," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

"This is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for our nation 20 to 30 years from now and beyond," he said.

Bush made his decision Wednesday after a meeting with top aides on his ranch in central Texas. Aides maintained the secrecy that characterized the process, giving 14 hours notice of his nationally televised address without revealing the decision to anyone but a tiny circle of advisers.

Thompson, who has been pushing the president to let the research advance, said: "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." Thompson spoke on ABC's "Good Morning America" before he was advised of Bush's decision.

McClellan said Bush made his decision "based on what he believes is in the best interest of the American people," rejecting any suggestion that politics played a role.

But the decision will have broad political ramifications, and Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, was deeply involved.

The Republican president has courted Roman Catholic voters, a key electoral bloc. Several church leaders — including Pope John Paul II — urged the president to bar funding for embryonic stem cell research.

A decision to allow it could alienate some Catholics. But recent polls show a majority of both Catholics and Protestants support it. Practicing Catholics are more divided on the topic.

Six in 10 Americans say they support stem cell research, and a similar proportion say they support federal funding. About half of Republicans support it, while four in 10 oppose it.

Among those Bush consulted were Catholic leaders, National Institutes of Health scientists and representatives of the National Right To Life Committee and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

The last expert that Bush heard from on the issue was a pro-research bioethicist who spoke with the president in the Oval Office last Friday afternoon, aides said.

White House officials coordinated Friday morning with the Republican National Committee on its weekly conference call with some 30 conservative activists. Republicans described those on the 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.

Bush put the finishing touches on his speech today, went jogging and fished.