Frist Breaks With President Bush on Embryonic Stem Cell Research $

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

Frist Breaks With President Bush on Embryonic Stem Cell Research $ Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 29, 2005

Washington, DC ( — Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has broken with President Bush’s position against spending additional taxpayer funds on embryonic stem cell research. Frist’s change of position could have huge ramifications as the Senate is considering how and when to vote on several bills on both sides of the controversial debate.

"I believe as do countless other scientists and clinicians and doctors that embryonic stem cells uniquely hold specific promise for some therapies and potential cures that adult stem cells just cannot provide," Frist said in a speech on the Senate floor Friday.

"While human embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage, the limitation put into place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases," Fist added.

Frist said he supports using taxpayer funds to pay for research scientists want to conduct on human embryos leftover from patients at fertility clinics. The research destroys the human embryo, an unborn child in her earliest days.

Advocates of the unproven research have a bill to fund that practice and overturn President Bush’s restrictions preventing federal funding of any new embryonic stem cell research.

Pro-life groups have proposed a ban on all forms of human cloning and hope the Senate will instead favor a bill to promote the use of adult stem cells.

Despite Frist’s contention, last month, the British medical journal Lancet, an internationally respected publication, labeled as "sensationalist" and "hype" claims from scientists that embryonic stem cell research will soon result in cures for a host of diseases.

The Lancet published an editorial in its June 4 edition titled, "Stem cell research: hope and hype." The Lancet favors embryonic stem cell research but noted in the article that "no safe and effective stem cell therapy will be widely available for at least a decade, and possibly longer."

The British medical journal also published an opinion article from Neil Scolding, a British neurologist and researcher at the University of Bristol. Scolding highlights some of the logistical problems associated with research that involves the destruction of human embryos.
"[A]n increasing appreciation of the hazards of embryonic stem cells has rightly prevented the emergence or immediate prospect of any clinical therapies based on such cells," he wrote. "The natural propensity of embryonic stem cells to form [tumors], their exhibition of chromosomal abnormalities, and abnormalities in cloned mammals all present difficulties."

Advocates of spending taxpayer funds on the destructive research say Frist’s position change enhances the prospect of their bill.

"His support of this makes it the dominant bill," Rep. Michael Castle, a Delaware Republican, said. Castle sponsored the House version of the bill that members approved.

The Senate will still not likely vote on the bill until September as the chamber is slated to begin its August recess break this weekend. Should the Senate approve the measure, President Bush has already committed to making the funding bill the subject of his first veto.

The House was far short in obtaining enough votes on the bill to override the veto and observers say the Senate may come up short as well.

In his speech, Frist said he still wants to bring up all of the various bills on the subject for a Senate floor vote.