Bush backs limited medical research on embryonic stem cells

CRAWFORD, Texas - Neither side in the stem cell debate was happy with President Bush's decision announced Thursday night to support federal funding for limited medical research on embryonic stem cells.

''The trade-off he has announced is morally unacceptable,'' said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. ''It allows our nation's research enterprise to cultivate a disrespect for human life.''

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a supporter of research, welcomed Bush's decision as ''an important step forward.'' But, he added, ''it doesn't go far enough to fulfill the lifesaving potential of this promising new medical research.''

At issue was whether the government should support research on stem cells removed from embryos that are left over from fertility treatments. Supporters of such research see great potential for medical treatments. Opponents insist it is wrong to use human embryos for research.

Citing the promise of breakthroughs in fighting diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes, Bush said he would approve federal funding, but only for existing lines of embryonic stem cells. That would restrict research to cells from embryos that already have been destroyed.

Among the chorus of voices debating embryonic stem cell research in recent months, some of the loudest were from Hollywood.

Actors Michael J. Fox, Mary Tyler Moore and Christopher Reeve are among the celebrities who asked President Bush to allow federal funding for the divisive experiments and helped it become Hollywood's latest social cause.

''Stem cell research is something I deeply believe in for myself and the millions of other people who could benefit,'' Moore, who has battled juvenile diabetes for more than 30 years, said before President Bush announced Thursday night that he will allow federal funding for limited medical research on stem cells extracted from human embryos.

''I think (celebrities) were able to bring information to people. We do have the ability to get the public's ear,'' Moore said.

Stem cell research involves implanting cells from newly formed embryos to replace cells attacked by degenerative illnesses. The new cells are useful because they can adapt into any tissue in the body.

Some anti-abortion groups have denounced the process as inhumane because it destroys embryos, although supporters of the research counter that those embryos would be discarded by fertility clinics anyway.

Other celebrity supporters of stem cell research include ''Ghost'' director Jerry Zucker.

Zucker and wife, Janet, who produced his new film ''Rat Race,'' help fund a lobbyist in Washington to fight for stem cell funding, which they believe could aid their 13-year-old diabetic daughter, Katie.

''We just want to be heard by anyone who will listen to us,'' Jerry Zucker said. ''She asked if she would have this all her life, and we said, 'Not if we can help it.'''

Fox was diagnosed with the degenerative brain disorder Parkinson's disease in 1991 and has cut back on his acting career to raise money for research.

He said he believes stem cell treatments could someday relieve his malady and felt an obligation to use his fame to highlight the cause.

''Really it's exercising a responsibility to take all this energy and goodwill that people have directed toward me and redirect it in the right direction,'' he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a proponent of stem cell research, was impressed by Moore's extensive knowledge of the subject and felt her fame would draw attention to the complicated issue.

Moore met with him in her role as the international chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.


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