NIH Letter Affirms Bush Position Against Funding Destructive Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 17, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

NIH Letter Affirms Bush Position Against Funding Destructive Research

by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 17, 2004

Washington, DC ( — In response to a letter from members of Congress urging President Bush to reverse his policy prohibiting federal funding of any new embryonic stem cell research, the National Institutes of Health defended Bush’s position and made it clear that Bush was not willing to rescind it.

"And although it is fair to say that from a purely scientific perspective more cell lines may well speed some areas of human embryonic stem cell research, the president’s position is still predicated on his belief that taxpayer funds should not ‘sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life,’" NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, writes.

"Today, much of the basic research that needs to be done can be and is being supported with federal funds under the president’s policy," Zerhouni says in the letter, disseminated to members of Congress.

Last month, a group of 206 members of Congress, including 36 Republicans, some of whom are pro-life on issues such as abortion and euthanasia, sent a letter to Bush. They asked the president to reverse his anti-funding policy because not enough embryonic stem cells lines are available to conduct research.

Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), who authored the Congressional letter, said he was still hopeful that President Bush would be receptive to his group’s concerns.

Castle and others believe the language acknowledging that more embryonic stem cell lines may be necessary shows Bush could be open to compromise on the issue. In the past, Bush and other top administration officials have said the limited number of current lines available is sufficient.

"I can’t imagine they didn’t parse this thing very carefully, so it’s encouraging that it at least leaves the possibility of discussion concerning a possible expansion," Castle said of the letter.

But, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan told the Washington Post it would be wrong to say that the president’s position against funding the destructive research has shifted.

Bush is committed, Buchan said, "to exploring the promise of stem cell research but continues to believe that we should not cross a fundamental moral line by encouraging the destruction of human embryos."

Meanwhile, members of the Senate, led by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, are crafting and circulating their own letter to President Bush. The Specter-backed group may have as many as 50 signatures.

That may signal potential movement in the Senate to examine — or overturn — Bush’s restrictions.
In addition, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, earlier this month, 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."

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.

President Bush issued his stem cell research policy in August 2001 that allowed federal funding for research conducted prior to that point, but prohibited 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.

Pro-life groups say those human embryos that are destroyed for their stem cells are unique human beings whose lives deserve to be protected. They point to the success of adult stem cell research, which have proven effective in research and clinical trials. Embryonic stem cells have yet to cure any patients.

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