Thompson says Bush will stand firm on stem cell decision
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush will stand by his decision to limit federal funding for embryonic stem cell research regardless of what scientific breakthroughs may occur, two administration officials said Sunday.
As Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and White House chief of staff Andrew Card went on television to discuss Bush’s decision, a leading researcher and a Republican senator questioned whether it would slow the race for cures for Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
Bush announced last Thursday that he will limit federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to stem cell lines already in existence. The government will not fund research on stem cell lines created after his announcement.
”Caution is demanded, because second thoughts will come too late,” Bush wrote in an editorial published Sunday in The New York Times.
Appearing on NBC’s ”Meet the Press,” Thompson said the more than 60 embryonic stem cell lines identified by the National Institutes of Health are enough to achieve the basic research needed to continue pursuing cures for juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
He said Bush will stand by his decision regardless of what scientists may discover. He estimated that stem cell researchers are three to five years from any breakthroughs.
”This president will not equivocate,” Thompson said. ”He made a very strong statement on that.”
”We think there’s more than enough lines for this embryonic stem cell research to go forward,” added Card, appearing on ”Fox News Sunday.”
But Dr. John Gearhart of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore questioned whether those stem cell lines, about half of which are at U.S. laboratories, will be enough.
”We know that there is a shelf life to these, and we are very concerned when we will need more lines, what happens then,” Gearhart said on CBS’ ”Face the Nation.” ”And I do think it will be sooner rather than later.”
Leon Kass, a University of Chicago bioethicist heading a Bush-appointed panel monitoring stem cell research, said the existing lines should last at least a decade.
If they prove insufficient, ”I think that’s a serious question and we will have to revisit it,” Kass said on CBS.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he and Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa are sponsoring legislation to broaden the federal funding of stem cell research to include discarded embryos from in-vitro fertilization. He said it will be an issue when Congress returns next month.
Specter said he, too, is skeptical that the existing stem cell lines will be enough.
”Every day we lose, we’re losing lives,” he said on CBS.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also said she would have gone further than Bush. But, ”I’m not sure this is the time to do that because I think we ought to see if this is sufficient,” she said on CNN’s ”Late Edition.”
Asked whether Bush would veto any legislation seeking to allow broader federally financed stem cell research, Thompson said he couldn’t speak for the president on that.
”First of all, I don’t think the Congress is going to pass that,” he said. Lawmakers should let basic research continue before passing such legislation, Thompson added.
Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., praised the limits set by Bush.
”There’s just too many areas that are inconclusive out there for us to get on a slippery slope to say we should take life in order to enhance life,” he said on CNN.
Many abortion opponents, including Roman Catholic leaders, think Bush went too far.
Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said on ABC’s ”This Week” that he considered the existing stem cell lines ”ill-gotten goods.”
”For the government to allow funding for this experiment makes the government complicit in what we consider to be wrongdoing,” Fiorenza said.
Thompson, a Catholic, said Bush’s decision is moral because it will only allow federally financed research on embryos that had been destroyed by the time of his announcement.
”Are we just going to throw them in the garbage can and say there’s nothing that can be done on them? You can’t put them back together,” he told NBC. ”Allow the research to continue.”
The federal government also funds research on umbilical cord, placenta, adult and animal stem cells.
On the Net: Text of the president’s address: http://www.whitehouse.gov.
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