Stem Cells Research is a Hurdle for GOP Campaign
He unveiled a compromise: The federal government would, for the first time, provide funding for the research, but wouldn't pay for work that required new embryos to be destroyed. Scientists and patients advocates, who wanted the funding spigot fully opened, grumbled but accepted the decision -- as did abortion foes who wanted the work banned.
But as Republicans gather in New York this week for their convention, the stem-cell controversy has grown more divisive. A number of conservative Republican Party stalwarts, including Sens. Trent Lott and Orrin Hatch, have joined Nancy Reagan and party moderates in breaking with the president on the issue.
With polls on stem cells running strongly against the president, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry senses a big opening on the issue.
Embryonic stem cells are present in the first few days after conception and eventually develop into eyes, muscle, organs and all the other tissue in the body. Scientists hope one day to be able to use stem cells to create specialized cells that can treat spinal-cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and other illnesses. But harvesting stem cells destroys the embryos that produce them, a process that has plunged the work into controversy since 1998, when University of Wisconsin researchers first drew stem cells from human embryos.
Researchers would also like to create stem cells that are a genetic match of an individual patient, through a procedure known as "therapeutic cloning." In that process, a cell is taken from the patient, inserted into an egg emptied of genetic material and coaxed to grow by electric or chemical stimulation. In 1996, a similar process was used to create the world's first clone of an adult mammal, Dolly the sheep. Cloning is even more controversial because embryos are created specifically for research.
Pummeled by abortion foes on one side and scientists on the other, President Bush tried to split the difference in his Aug. 9, 2001, address. He said the federal government would back research on stem-cell lines developed by that date, but wouldn't put money into work that required new embryos to be destroyed. With the existing stem cells, "the life and death decision has already been made," he said.
After the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington a month later, the stem-cell issue faded. But advocates continued to work to block a ban on cloning, which had passed the House of Representatives, from becoming law.
The Senate never voted on the bill.
So far, while stem cells are rising as a campaign issue, cloning hasn't really registered. If it does, the Kerry campaign says it will point to Sen. Hatch's support for the procedure, which mirrors Sen. Kerry's. Says Sarah Bianch, the Kerry campaign's policy director: "Standing with Orrin Hatch is a safe place to be."
(wsj. Email for article.)