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Christian Groups Sue to Block Stem Cell Research

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"We definitely have our work cut out for us on the side of advocating for this research," says Tim Leshen, director of public policy for the American Society of Cell Biology. "A lot of scientists are worried about how this is going to play out politically. They're thinking, 'Do I really want to spend all this time, money, and effort to put in an application only to find out that it's going to be quashed?'"

In congressional budget hearings this week, lawmakers of both parties urged Thompson to permit the research.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the little-known Christian Medical Association, several couples wishing to adopt human embryos, and Nightlight Christian Adoptions, an agency that arranges adoptions of embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics. The CMA's executive director, David Stevens, MD, compared federal funding for stem cell research to the government's involvement in the Tuskegee experiments, in which African-American men with syphilis participated in a decades-long study without proper treatment or disclosure of their illness.

The Christian Coalition backed the suit, as did Sen. Sam Brownback, (R-Kan.), who said Thursday that the research is "deeply immoral." He said, "It has never been acceptable to kill one person for the benefit of another."

Sens. Arlen Specter, (R-Penn.), and Tom Harkin, (D-Iowa), are expected to introduce legislation that would specifically allow the NIH to fund the research, while otherwise maintaining the embryo ban.

But Leshen tells WebMD that opponents of the bill may be able to prevent a Senate vote through a filibuster. "I don't know if legislation is the best hope. That's going to be a tough row to hoe." He says, "We're going to be trying to work closely with the Thompson folks to make it clear that there is a large constituency out here who supports this research and wants to see it go forward."

Already this year, the Bush administration has received letters urging federal funding from dozens of Nobel laureates, a long list of prominent patient, disease, and medical groups, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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