Frist Backs Funding of Stem Cell Research
Senator Supports Bill Expanding Embryonic Stem Cells Available for Federal Funding
WebMD News Archive
July 29, 2005 -- In a surprise move Friday, Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist said he will back efforts to reverse President Bush's policy restricting
federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Frist (R-Tenn.) shocked conservatives and delighted research advocates when
he rose on the Senate floor to say that he would support a controversial bill
greatly expanding the number of embryonic stem cell lines eligible for
The announcement signaled a stark break from Bush, who has threatened to
veto the expansion bill. Frist had been a key White House ally in slowing down
the legislation because of ethical concerns.
But Frist said that he had determined that embryonic stem cells represented
a research avenue that could not be fulfilled by other less controversial forms
of stem cells.
"I also strongly believe -- as do countless other scientists,
clinicians, and doctors -- that embryonic stem cells uniquely hold specific
promise for some therapies and potential cures that adult stem cells cannot
provide," he said.
Federal policy laid down by Bush in August 2001 limited federal funding to
77 stem cell lines that had already been derived from human embryos. But only
22 of those lines have proved viable for research, and scientists have
complained that contamination has severely limited even those lines from ever
being of use in developing treatments.
Bush has defended the restrictions saying they struck the proper balance
between advancing science and protecting nascent human lives in the form of
But Friday, Frist unexpectedly joined with a bipartisan group of lawmakers
pushing to extend National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to cell lines
derived from embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. He said that Bush's
limits will "slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain
"Therefore, I believe the president's policy should be modified. We
should expand federal funding (and thus NIH oversight) and current guidelines
governing stem cell research, carefully and thoughtfully staying within ethical
bounds," he said.
The announcement came on the Senate's last day of business before an August
recess, meaning that lawmakers won't revisit the issue until at least
Ethical Concerns Remain
Frist said he would support a reversal of the policy but warned that he had
"significant" concerns with ethical guidelines in the bill. The
legislation does not go far enough to prevent clinics from selling embryos to
scientists or to specify who has the final say over the implantation of donated
embryos, he said.
Those concerns could lead to a "substantial rewriting" of the bill,
Still, stem cell supporters reacted with glee to Frist's speech. "Today
the majority leader puts principles above politics," said Sen. Tom Harkin
(D-Iowa), a sponsor of the stem cell expansion bill.