Stem cell stalemate

By Aaron Zitner

Los Angeles Times

CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush, navigating the most politically charged decision of his administration, announced Thursday that he would allow the federal government to fund medical research that uses stem cells taken from a limited number of human embryos.

But in a significant constraint, the president said that the government would pay only for experiments using stem cells that already have been drawn from embryos, and that it would not fund research that caused any additional embryos to be destroyed.

“This allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos,” the president said in his first prime-time address to the nation since he took office.

The decision was well-received by some anti-abortion groups, which make up a key part of Bush’s political base and had threatened to punish the president if he went too far in supporting the research. Because human embryos are destroyed to obtain stem cells, they consider the experiments tantamount to murder.

“We’re delighted,” said Laura Echevarria, spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee. “This decision prevents the federal government from being party to the destruction of any human embryos for experimentation.”

Several prominent scientists immediately criticized the decision, saying that Bush had adopted restrictions that would prevent the government from jump-starting the single most promising avenue of medical research.

The decision has the potential to spark a battle with Congress. A majority of lawmakers in both the House and Senate had asked Bush to fund the research. Several senators have been pushing for a far broader set of research rules than Bush adopted, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Thursday night that the Senate would likely review Bush’s stance.

In his remarks, broadcast from his Texas ranch, Bush said he had carefully weighed the promise of the research with the fear that destroying embryos demeaned human life. He said the nation is grappling with a range of laboratory reports regarding the earliest forms of human life, including news that some scientists already are moving to produce cloned human embryos, a move that Bush said he “strongly” opposes.

The president said that “like all Americans, I have great hope for cures. I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our creator. I worry about a culture that devalues life and believe, as your president, I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world.”

In balancing the “great promise and great peril” of the research, Bush said he would limit federal funding for research using only those sets of stem cells that already have been drawn from human embryos.

Bush said that 60 such sets of cells, known as cell lines, were in existence, and he noted that the “life-and-death decision” had already been made to destroy those embryos. “Leading scientists tell me research on these 60 lines has great promise that can lead to breakthrough therapies and cures,” he said.

But he said it was not proper to use taxpayer money to destroy new human embryos.

Several researchers, however, said that 60 cell lines was insufficient to exploit the promise of stem cells.

Douglas Melton, chairman of Harvard University’s department of molecular and cellular biology, said he knew of scientific publications describing about 10 of those cell lines. “And some of those 10 cell lines don’t grow well at all and are largely useless,” he said. “There are only one or two that I know of that are helpful.”

Moreover, he said, private companies hold the rights to some of the existing cell lines, and they are not willing to share them on terms that academic researchers can accept.

No federal law bars private companies from extracting stem cells from human embryos or studying them. But the federal government is by far the largest supporter of U.S. medical research, and a broad commitment to financial support would draw many more researchers to the field, several scientists said.

That Bush devoted a nationally televised speech to stem cell research showed how prominent the issue has become in only a few months. It was scarcely debated in the presidential campaign last fall, though Bush, through spokesmen and in written statements, said he opposed federal funding for the experiments.

At least 38 House Republicans asked Bush to support the research, and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., claimed that more than 70 senators wanted the federal funding. They included such solid abortion opponents as Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the only physician in the Senate and an adviser to Bush on health matters.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Arif Ghouseat flips through his work binder in his office conference room Paine Field on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Paine Field Airport director departing for Sea-Tac job

Arif Ghouse, who oversaw the launch of commercial air travel at Paine Field, is leaving after eight years.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of education.
Public school enrollment still down, even as rural districts grow

Smaller districts in Snohomish County seem to be recovering more quickly — and gaining students — than their urban counterparts.

Josiah Degenstein
Lake Stevens man with alleged white supremacist ties faces gun charges

Storage units belonging to Josiah Degenstein contained multiple arsenals, according to police.

Maricel Samaniego, center, teaches English to Liedith Espana, left, and Nemecio Rios, right, at Liberty Elementary School in Marysville, Washington, on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Marysville schools partner with Everett Community College to offer free English classes to parents of multilingual students. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Free English class helps Marysville parents lower language barrier

The school district partners with EvCC to teach practical classes on pronunciation, paperwork and parent-teacher conferences.

Firefighters works through rescue drills during the Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue’s annual Water Rescue Academy on the Skykomish River Thursday afternoon in Index, Washington on May 5, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Snohomish Regional Fire asks voters for two more commissioners

The district currently has seven commissioners, but it can keep only five. A Feb. 14 special election could change that.

Photo by David Welton
A federal grant will help pay for the cost of adding a charging station to the Clinton ferry terminal.
Federal money to help electrify Clinton ferry dock

The Federal Transit Administration awarded state ferries a $4.9 million grant to help electrify the Mukilteo-Clinton route.

News logo for use with stories about coronavirus COVID-19 COVID
5 things to watch in Snohomish County as COVID public emergency ends

Snohomish County health care leaders shared what they’re concerned about when the federal emergency expires May 11.

Angelica Montanari and daughter Makena, 1, outside of the Community Health Center of Snohomish County Everett-Central Clinic on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Amid patient woes, CHC of Snohomish County staffers push for a union

Doctors and nurse practitioners are worried about providers being shut out from clinical decisions, which hurts patient care.

Students make their way after school at Edmonds-Woodway High School on March 12, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
After Edmonds schools internet outage, staff ‘teaching like it’s the 1900s’

“Suspicious activities” on the district’s network delayed classes and caused schedule havoc. “Kids are using pencil and paper again.”

Most Read