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Frist Backs Funding of Stem Cell Research

Senator Supports Bill Expanding Embryonic Stem Cells Available for Federal Funding

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Rep. Dianna DeGette (D-Colo.), who celebrated a birthday Friday, was an author of the bill in the House, where it passed 238-194 in May. "Sen. Frist just gave me the very best birthday present I've ever gotten," she said.

At the same time, the announcement shocked those conservatives who strongly back Bush's limits.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who opposes embryonic stem cell research, said he was "disappointed" by Frist's remarks. "He concedes [an embryo is] human life but in a utilitarian view we should go ahead and get something out of this," he said.

"Sen. Frist is a good man but he is simply advocating a bad policy," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Announcement's Effects Unclear

Frist, in addition to serving as Republican leader in the Senate, also carries significant weight with colleagues on health and medical issues because of his experience as a heart transplant surgeon. Many senators said in interviews that his support could convince some wavering colleagues to vote for the bill.

But it remained unclear what effect the move would have on the debate. The bill has languished for weeks as senators failed to agree on whether to debate the bill alone or together with at least six other bills addressing cloning, new stem cell technologies, and other issues.

Stem cell supporters have demanded a vote on their measure alone, while opponents wanted to add debate on the other issues. Frist has sided with opponents on the issue and Friday signaled no willingness to deviate from that strategy.

"He still wants to make sure that fair treatment is afforded to all of those who have a bill," Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson said.

Frist informed Bush Thursday night of his planned speech, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Friday. McClellan said that "nothing has changed" in terms of Bush's threat to veto an expansion to his stem cell policy.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a pro-life lawmaker who also supports embryonic stem cell research, said in an interview that he would use Frist's support in an effort to convince the president to change his mind on embryonic stem cell research.

"I think as he continues to study this he will feel like many others and say 'what's wrong with helping the living,'" he said.

The American Diabetes Association and other research groups praised Frist's announcement Friday. "The Senate has an opportunity to help advance the search for better treatments and a cure for diabetes. With Dr. Frist's support, it is an opportunity that will not be wasted," ADA president Robert A. Rizza, MD, said in a statement.

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