Senate Majority Leader Backs President Bush on Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 21, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Majority Leader Backs President Bush on Stem Cell Research

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 21, 2004

Washington, DC ( — Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist backed President Bush on Sunday in an interview with Chris Wallace on the Fox News Channel. Senator Frist said he believed human embryos deserved special consideration and that taxpayer funds shouldn’t be spent destroying their lives.

"The real issue is the moral equivalence, the moral significance, [and] how strongly you feel about the human embryo," Frist explained on FNC’s "Fox News Sunday" program.

"I feel, and I think the president feels, that the human embryo is three things: It’s living, it’s biologically human, and it is differentiated genetically. And those three things justify saying that it has moral significance," Senator Frist, a Tennessee Republican, explained.

Though Frist said he agreed with the president that tax dollars shouldn’t be used to clone and kill human embryos for research, he said scientists who have lobbied the president to overturn his anti-funding policy have other avenues to obtain dollars for research.

"People forget … that there is absolutely no limitation on embryonic stem-cell research or adult stem-cell research in the private sector," Frist said. "Unlimited monies, legally and appropriately, can go into that type of research."

In August 2001, President Bush announced a new policy, issued through an executive order, prohibiting federal funding of any new embryonic stem cell research conducted after that point.

Biotech firms criticized the policy saying that most embryonic stem cells gathered prior to the policy change were useless because they had been fused with "mouse feeder cells" to grow and contaminated as a result. Thus, Bush’s policy had the effect of prohibiting virtually all embryonic stem cell funding, they said.

In the interview, Frist said some of the promises attached to the cures scientists predict they can obtain from embryonic stem cells are unrealistic.

"[S]cientists tend to over-promise stem cells," Frist, a heart surgeon, explained.

"And I think Alzheimer’s is a pretty good example. Right now, and I say this as a scientist, that if you’re going to address Alzheimer’s, you probably aren’t going to use stem cells as one of the top five or 10 or even 15 ways to address it," Senator Frist concluded.