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Bush to allow limited stem cell funding

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August 10, 2001 Posted: 12:00 PM EDT (1600 GMT)
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CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- In a much-anticipated decision on what he called a "complex and difficult issue," President Bush 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.

  STUDENT BUREAU
Study: Fetal tissue offers hope for Huntington's
 
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What are stem cells? How do scientists use them? -- Click here for an Interactive explanation
 

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 on Thursday, where he is on a month-long 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.

But some find stem cell research troubling if embryos are 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.

'Proceed with great care'

Bush said research using embryonic stem cells involved "great promise, and great peril."

"We must proceed with great care," he said.

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Watch President Bush's speech on federal funding for stem cell research (Part 1) (August 9)

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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 said.

He 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.

Reaction muted

Immediate reaction to Bush's announcement has initially drawn some degree of support from people on both sides of the issue.

"It's a thoughtful, decent, honorable decision," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who supported the funding. "He's come down on the side of facilitating life."

A leading opponent of the research, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, said he was "pleased about the limitations that he's put on the research."

However, Brownback also said he was "concerned about the breaking of the barrier" by allowing even limited research.

"If [an embryo is] a life, we should treat it as such and not some sort of medical commodity," Brownback said.

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.

WHAT IS A STEM CELL?

A stem cell is a pluripotent cell, or a cell that can develop into any kind of tissue. It is usually taken from an embryo that is in the development stage. The cells at this stage have not declared themselves and thus with programming can develop into a specific type of cell including cardiac, neuro, or even skeletal muscle.

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.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
 

advocacy

the act of supporting a cause

 

debilitating

impairing the physical strength

 

peril

danger

 

sanction

a mechanism of social control for enforcing a society's standards

 

embryo

developing human individual in the first stage after conception

 

disclose

make known to the public



RELATED STORIES:
RELATED SITE:
• Stem Cells: A Primer, National Institutes of Health, May 2000

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Updated September 21, 2002


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