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Bush's Stem Cell Decision: What Will It Mean?


WebMD Health News

Aug. 9, 2001 (Washington) -- As a political firestorm continues to rage around stem-cell research, President Bush is set to announce his position tonight on federal funding for studies on stem cells taken from frozen human embryos.

Bush's prime-time TV announcement from his Texas ranch is a huge and defining moment for the chief executive, just seven months into his presidency. "This is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for our nation 20-30 years from now and beyond," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Larry Goldstein, PhD, an officer with the American Society for Cell Biology and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, tells WebMD, "If the President decides to allow the research to go forward, I think that it could be a watershed event. It will lead to a great many discoveries in the coming years that will be of great benefit to people with diseases that are potentially treatable."

Those who support stem cell research say that having the U.S. government's lead in funding is crucial to exploring possible cures for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other diseases.

Stem cells are unspecialized and self-renewing cells. Scientists believe that they can manipulate them so that they specialize into brain, heart, pancreas, or many other types of cells. But thus far, researchers have only conducted trials of embryonic stem cells involving animals.

If Bush fails to adopt funding, "It would be very unfortunate," Goldstein tells WebMD. "It would indicate that he was willing to put a very narrow set of interests ahead of a broad set of interests." At the same time, a rejection from Bush might not be the end of the story, he said, since many members of Congress support the research.

Meanwhile, opposition to embryonic stem cell funding is intense. A range of "pro-life" religious groups cite a pledge Bush made in May to oppose government funding for research that destroys "living" embryos. Last month, after Bush met with the Pope in Italy, the Vatican weighed in strongly against any embryonic research.

Reverend Pat Mahoney, executive director of the Christian Defense Coalition, told reporters today that Bush faced serious risks by supporting funding. "If he agrees to public funding, he is not pro-life," he said. "He is writing his own script for being a one-term president," Mahoney warned, adding that the "betrayal" would endanger Republican control of the U.S. House by discouraging pro-life voter turnout in next year's elections.

If Bush supports the funding, the conservative Family Research Council warned today, "We will say that it is permissible to kill so long as we intend to bring good from it. The new modus operandi for medicine will be 'kill to cure.'"

But White House spokesman McClellan said that Bush's decision was "very complex".

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