Congressional Debate Over Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research Heats Up

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 6, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Congressional Debate Over Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research Heats Up

by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 6, 2004

Washington, DC ( — In the wake of a letter from more than 200 members of Congress to President Bush asking him to review his policy prohibiting virtually all federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, the debate is heating up further.

One leading senator pledges to craft a second pro-funding letter to Bush while pro-life lawmakers say they will take any actions necessary to prevent tax dollars from ending lives.

Pro-abortion Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter says he will draft another letter to Bush to be signed by members of the Senate.

But, he isn’t alone in wanting the anti-funding policy to be reviewed.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Tuesday told reporters that he supports Bush’s policy but also wants to examine its impact.

"It’s been three years and I think it’s time to do it," First said, according to a New York Times report. "I’m very interested in answering the question whether or not scientists are really leaving this country in droves because of the limitations on research."

As the pressure builds, presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry, who backs abortion, is also heaping on the pressure on the president in campaign speeches.

Kerry, an early supporter of the destructive research, bashed Bush at a recent fundraiser saying that his policy will prevent diabetes research from moving forward. He did not mention that embryonic stem cell research has not cured any patients while the use of more ethical adult stem cells has been tremendously successful.

In a speech in December, John Kerry blasted President Bush’s "anti-science attitude" attitude.

A White House spokesman told the Times on Wednesday that President Bush has no plans to expand funding for the controversial research.

"The president remains committed to exploring the promise of stem-cell research," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. Bush "continues to believe strongly that we should not cross a fundamental moral line by encouraging the destruction of human embryos."

Meanwhile, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a strong backer of the unproven research, will hold a gala on Saturday night honoring Nancy Reagan, who has been an outspoken proponent of embryonic stem cell research. She will receive an award from actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease and has been pushing for increased funding.

Meanwhile, Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Michael Castle (R-DE) say they will introduce legislation to overturn Bush’s policy, but pro-life lawmakers will be there to stop it.

However, Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who has been lobbying for a ban on all forms of human cloning, said he would take whatever steps are necessary to keep the anti-funding policy in place. Texas Representative Tom DeLay, the House Republican leader, said he would do the same on the House side, the Times reports.

In the letter, lawmakers told Bush they want scientists to be able to conduct research on more than 400,000 human embryos "leftover" from in vitro fertilization that remain frozen and unused.

Pro-life groups say those are unique human beings whose lives deserve to be protected, not destroyed for research.

President Bush issued his stem cell research policy in August 2001 that allowed federal funding for research conducted prior to that point, but prohibiting any federal funding of embryonic stem cell research conducted afterwards.

Although there were reportedly 64 stem cell lines available for federally funded research when Bush signed the policy, only 19 stem cell lines currently are available for federally funded research, according to an NIH analysis.

Scientists have found most of those embryonic stem cells unusable because mouse cells were combined with human cells to induce growth in most of the stem cell lines.

The letter received signatures from 206 members, including 36 Republicans, some of whom are pro-life on issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

Related web sites:
Members who signed the letter to Bush –
Do No Harm –