Bush to allow limited stem cell funding
CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- In a much-anticipated decision on what he called a "complex and difficult issue," President Bush on Thursday night said he would allow federal funding of research using existing stem cell lines.
Bush said there are about 60 existing stem cell lines in various research facilities -- cell lines that have already been derived from human embryos.
The president stopped short of allowing federal funding for research using stem cells derived from frozen embryos, about 100,000 of which exist at fertility labs across the country.
"I have made this decision with great care, and I pray that it is the right one," Bush said in a nationally televised address from his ranch here, where he is on a monthlong working vacation.
Scientists and advocacy groups view embryonic stem cell research as perhaps the best hope for finding cures for debilitating diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Other groups, such as anti-abortion activists, consider stem cell research the taking of a human life because embryos must be destroyed to harvest the stem cells.
Some of Bush's closest advisers -- including Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson -- had urged him to allow broader funding of the controversial science.
One compromise that Bush reportedly had been considering would have allowed the funding of research using stem cells from the excess embryos at fertility clinics.
Bush opted not to go that far. He said he would allow funding for research using existing stem cell lines only, "where the decision on life and death has already been made."
Conservative groups had called upon Bush to stick to campaign promises to reject any federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Bush said research using embryonic stem cells involved "great promise, and great peril."
"We must proceed with great care," Bush said.
The president said scientists have told him that research on the 60 existing stem cell lines "has great promise that could lead to breakthrough therapies and cures. 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 that have at least the potential for life."
Bush also endorsed increased funding for research on stem cells obtained from adults, umbilical cords, placentas and animals, saying the federal government will spend $250 million on this research this year.
In addition, he announced creation of a President's Council on Bioethics that will consider scientific and ethical considerations as the research proceeds. It will be chaired by Dr. Leon Kass of the University of Chicago. (More reaction from researchers.)
Immediate reaction to Bush's announcement was somewhat muted.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has spoken in favor of embryonic stem cell research, called Bush's decision "thoughtful, decent and honorable."
"I'm very pleased," Hatch said on CNN.
But others questioned whether research using only the existing stem cell lines would be sufficient.
Research supporter Montel Williams, a talk-show host who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said it was not known whether the 60 cell lines referred to by Bush were "viable." He urged funding for research using stem cells from excess embryos that are to be discarded anyway.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, another research supporter, welcomed Bush's decision as "an important step forward," according to The Associated Press. But, Kennedy added, Bush's decision "doesn't go far enough to fulfill the lifesaving potential of this promising new medical research." (More on the political reaction.)
Grappling with the issue
Bush, sources said, previously had decided to flatly oppose federal funding of research that involved or used embryos gathered solely for research purposes, or embryos created through cloning human cells.
The issue Bush grappled with was whether to stand by his previous statements opposing federal funding for any embryonic stem cell research, or to reverse course and support the position backed by many of his closest advisers, including Thompson, Vice President Dick Cheney, Chief of Staff Andy Card and White House counselor Karen Hughes, according to sources.
Among those who recommended against any change in position, these sources said, were strategist Karl Rove, the top White House liaison to conservative Republicans.
During the presidential campaign, Bush said he opposed federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
And in a May 18, 2001, letter to a group called The Culture of Life Foundation, Bush wrote: "I oppose federal funding for stem cell research that involved destroying living human embryos." Bush went on to say he supported research using stems cells from adult donors.
But the president came under heavy pressure to reconsider and had grappled with the issue for more than two months, holding dozens of meetings with medical and scientific experts, ethicists, religious leaders and others.
He also raised the issue at events on other issues, including a meeting with doctors to discuss the patients' bill of rights and an event that included breast cancer survivors.
White House officials said Bush reached his decision since arriving in Texas for his working vacation and decided Wednesday he wanted to announce it on Thursday in the nationally televised address. These officials said he had made clear he wanted to be the first to disclose it.
Democrats to press for funding
A decision to allow broad federal funding for the research could have put Bush at odds with many cultural conservative organizations -- and key GOP leaders in the House.
Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay, for example, had said they would lead an effort to block any Bush attempt to allow federal funding.
Leading Democrats, on the other hand, have vowed to press for legislative language allowing federal funding.
"To support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is to come down on the side of hope for the millions of Americans suffering from diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to cancer to Parkinson's to diabetes," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota. (More reaction from political leaders.)
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