President Bush Considering Ethical Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 29, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 29, 2005

Washington, DC ( — President Bush has drawn a line in the sand and refused to cross it when it comes to using taxpayer funds to pay for any new embryonic stem cell research. Because he opposes the destruction of human life necessary to obtain the stem cells from embryos, Bush has threatened to veto a bill funding the unproven research.

However, in recent days, members of Congress have met with the president and pitched him the idea that embryonic stem cells can be obtained without killing the human being.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is considering legislation to fund experimental research presented to Bush’s Council on Bioethics suggesting that methods exist to harvest embryonic stem cells ethically.

The panel and pro-life groups are skeptical about some of the ideas scientists presented, but others have the potential to collect the embryonic cells in an ethical manner.

Rep. David Dreier, a California Republican, was one of three lawmakers to meet with the president about the idea earlier this month. He told the Associated Press, "There was a sense around the table that if we could discover a way to extract the stem cells without destroying the embryo, that that was something that nearly everyone could support."

"The president was very enthusiastic about that. He clearly supported it," Drier said.

Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania senator and leading pro-life advocate, also met with Bush and said he may try to attach an amendment to a spending bill that would authorize funds for the experimental research.

Frist said the funding could come in a stand-alone bill.

"We’ll probably consider a number of bills," Frist told AP.

Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon also met with President Bush and told AP that the president was intrigued by the possibility of collecting the cells but "looking for a way to stay within his ethical boundaries."

The four possible experimental methods to gather embryonic stem cells include:

* collecting them from technically dead embryos. When embryos frozen at fertility clinics are thawed, not all of them are usable. Some do not survive the thawing process and it’s possible that their stem cells may still be usable. Researchers liken the process to harvesting organs from a recently deceased person for transplants.

* taking stem cells from younger human embryos. Some scientists say it could be possible to collect stem cells from a two-day old human embryo without killing the person to do it.

* cloning fetal tissue but not human beings. A process called "altered nuclear transfer" may possibly allow scientists to clone embryonic tissue but not embryos. If so, the tissue would yield stem cells and a human being would not be destroyed in the process.

* making older stem cells able to divide and produce new ones. Scientists are already working with adult stem cells to prompt them to multiply and create new ones, but it is not known if older embryonic stem cells could produce new ones.

These processes are beginning to draw support from the pro-life community.

Earlier this week, Archbishop John Myers of Newark and 35 other leading ethicists signed a document saying the techniques could avoid the moral quagmire created by embryonic stem cell research. They specifically endorsed "altered nuclear transfer" to create new embryonic stem cells without creating a human embryo.

The signers said research should first be conducted on animals before trying it with human tissue.