Stem-Cell Funding Issue Unleashes Flood of Lobbying

Bush to Decide on U.S. Money for Research

WASHINGTON, D.C., MAR. 10, 2001 ( Will the Bush administration fund scientific research using stem cells from human embryos?

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson is at the center of argument on the matter, and this week he announced the appointment of a panel of researchers to advise him on the issue.

This news came during a speech given by Thompson in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, according to the city´s Journal Sentinel newspaper March 5. Thompson also said his department will still receive applications for stem cell research grants until the March 15 deadline set by the Clinton administration. The agency, however, will not decide whether to issue the grants until after the legal issues at stake are reviewed.

Some researchers believe that fetal stem cells have the potential to cure many diseases. They hope that pluripotent stem cells can grow into body organs, nerves, tissue and blood vessels. But because these cells are harvested from aborted fetuses and unwanted embryos from fertility clinics, pro-life groups want a ban on the use of government funds for research using stem cells.

In the past President George W. Bush declared his opposition to stem cell research. During the election campaign he maintained he would block federal funds for this research. At a Jan. 26 press conference, Bush restated his opposition to federal funding of research involving stem cells derived from discarded fetuses, but he did not commit himself to a ban. Thompson, for his part, counts himself as an abortion foe, but in the past has praised research using stem cells, the Los Angeles Times reported March 1.

Congress has approved legislation prohibiting the use of government money for research involving destruction of human embryos. But the Clinton administration decided that research on stem cells was not prohibited, so long as researchers themselves did not destroy the embryos. Thus, they could conduct research on cells taken from embryos that privately funded researchers had destroyed.

Bush petitioned by groups

Groups involved in the debate over stem cells have been sending letters to Bush, hoping to influence his decision. The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that 80 Nobel Prize laureates signed a letter to the president, urging him to not block federal money for research.

Given the cells´ great therapeutic promise, say the laureates, it would be tragic to waste this opportunity to pursue work that could potentially alleviate human suffering.

Among the signatories are James Watson, Nobel in 1962 for co-discovering, with Francis Crick, the structure of DNA; molecular biologist Hamilton O. Smith, a key figure in the genome mapping effort by Celera Genomics; and Edward Lewis, a California Institute of Technology biologist on embryo development.