- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

President Bush, who has never issued a veto, yesterday threatened to veto a bill that would increase public funding for stem-cell research, which requires the destruction of human embryos.

“I will veto it,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The president said he strongly opposes “the use of federal money — taxpayers’ money — to promote science which destroys life in order to save life.”

His remarks, hours after he twice used the late Pope John Paul II’s phrase “culture of life” at the Second National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, were swiftly denounced by Democrats.

“The president’s threat to veto legislation on bipartisan stem-cell research demonstrates how out of touch he is with the priorities of the American people,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

“Veto threats like that,” he added, “show how beholden the White House is to the radical right wing of the GOP.”

Mr. Bush opposes embryonic stem-cell research because it entails the destruction of fertilized eggs, which he believes constitute human life. So, in 2001, he limited federal funding to lines of embryonic stem cells already in existence.

But that limit would be repealed by a House bill backed by Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware. Although Mr. Castle is a Republican, his bill is opposed by the White House.

“We cannot cross a fundamental moral line,” said Deputy White House Press Secretary Trent Duffy, “about using public money to support the destruction of human life. The issue with the Castle bill is it does break that principle.”

Advocates of the Castle bill counter that the research could lead to medical breakthroughs in the treatment of diseases.

“Embryonic stem-cell research provides us the hope of new cures and therapies,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “President Bush has made the wrong choice, putting politics ahead of safe, responsible science.”

The White House hopes Mr. Bush’s veto threat will limit the number of Republicans supporting Mr. Castle’s bill. Other influential Republicans, including former first lady Nancy Reagan, support increased funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

But the White House cautioned against viewing embryonic stem-cell research as a panacea.

“It also may be unnecessary at this point, because there are methods in the scientific community that might give us the ability to extract stem cells from human embryos without their destruction, or to obtain stem cells some other way that would fit within the president’s program,” Mr. Duffy said.

Republican leaders have advised members to vote their consciences on the Castle bill, raising the possibility that Congress could override a presidential veto. They also recently decided it was necessary to offer an alternative to Mr. Castle’s bill.

On Monday, pro-life Republicans are expected to propose their own bill — sponsored by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican — that would avoid human embryos altogether and focus instead on funding research on umbilical cord blood and bone marrow, both of which contain stem cells and already have been successful in treating diseases.

“This is the best-kept secret in America,” said Mr. Smith, who notes that both leukemia and sickle-cell anemia patients have been cured using treatments derived from the blood found in placenta and umbilical cords after babies are born.

Mr. Bush strongly supports such research, Mr. Duffy said.

Meanwhile, the president reacted negatively to Thursday’s announcement that South Korean scientists have developed a more efficient way to harvest stem cells from cloned human embryos.

“I’m very concerned about cloning,” Mr. Bush said in the Oval Office. “I worry about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable.”

In Europe, medical researchers hailed the breakthrough as massive progress in the endeavor to reverse degenerative disease or fix damaged spinal nerves, retinas and other tissues, but also admitted concern that the latest work would tempt maverick scientists to try to create a cloned baby.

Ian Wilmut, the British scientist who led the cloning team that created the sheep Dolly in 1996, said the work was “a very significant and important step forward.”

French genetics pioneer Axel Kahn described it as “a technical tour de force … news of prime importance.” Another leading French geneticist, Marc Peschanski, said it was a “scientific revolution,” a “spectacular” advance on previously cloning performance.

But Mr. Peschanski also acknowledged that some of the technical barriers to creating a cloned human “have now been lowered.”

That scenario was evoked by the British organization Life, which campaigns against abortion as well as embryo research.

“This Frankenstein science should be banned in every civilized country,” it said.

Amy Fagan contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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