- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush yesterday said tax dollars should not be used to fund the killing of human embryos for medical research but endorsed the funding of studies on embryonic stem cells that have already been harvested.
In a nationally televised address from his ranch in central Texas, the president cited his pro-life principles in insisting the "potential" life of human embryos trumps the potential of medical research in the hierarchy of moral considerations.
But he softened the blow to stem-cell research advocates by allowing federal funding of embryos that have already been killed.
"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," Mr. Bush said.
The president ruled out federal funding of any further killing of these embryos because "even the most noble ends do not justify any means." Mr. Bush has long described himself as a pro-lifer who believes that life begins at conception.
"Human life is a sacred gift from our Creator," he said. "I worry about a culture that devalues life and believe as your president, I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world. And while we're all hopeful about the potential of this research, no one can be certain that the science will live up to the hope that it's generated."
Reaction to the president's decision was mixed, with some advocates of embryonic stem-cell research expressing guarded optimism about the 60 "lines" of embryonic stem-cells that are now eligible for federal research dollars.
But others felt Mr. Bush did not go far enough and vowed to press for the harvesting of additional stem cells from embryos that are currently living.
Although the president has long insisted that his decision on embryonic stem-cell research would be based on morality, not politics, there is no avoiding the political ramifications of his decision.
By placing so much emphasis on something that was never a major part of the debate — stem cells that have already been harvested — Mr. Bush was able to position himself as striking a compromise, when in reality he did not budge from his pro-life convictions.
In fact, his 11-minute speech won grudging praise from some liberal Democrats who had expected him to ban all embryonic stem-cell research. It also drew complaints from some conservative Republicans who believe any research puts the administration on a slippery ethical slope.
Both reactions might serve to reinforce the image of Mr. Bush as a thoughtful president who reached his decision after months of anguishing over the pros and cons. In fact, Mr. Bush spent most of his speech carefully airing both sides of the debate in a way that stressed the good intentions of all parties.
"Embryonic stem-cell research offers both great promise and great peril, so I've decided we must proceed with great care," Mr. Bush said. "As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem-cell lines already exist.
"They were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research," he added. "I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem-cell lines, where the life-and-death decision has already been made."
For millions of Catholics and other Americans who consider the destruction of human embryos tantamount to murder, the president's decision amounted to a stay of execution for more than 100,000 human embryos.
Most of the embryos were created as "extras" during the in vitro fertilization process. Such embryos are occasionally implanted in the wombs of adoptive mothers and are brought to term as healthy babies.
Although Mr. Bush acknowledged that stem cells taken from embryos are considered the most promising in the fight against diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, he emphasized there is also much promise in stem cells taken from umbilical cords, placentas, adults and even animals, "which do not involve the same moral dilemma."
He also announced the formation of "a president's council to monitor stem-cell research, to recommend appropriate guidelines and regulations, and to consider all of the medical and ethical ramifications of biomedical innovation."
"This council will consist of leading scientists, doctors, ethicists, lawyers, theologians and others, and will be chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, a leading biomedical ethicist from the University of Chicago," he said. "This council will keep us apprised of new developments and give our nation a forum to continue to discuss and evaluate these important issues."
Mr. Bush reached his decision Wednesday after weeks of consultations with experts ranging from Pope John Paul II to people who suffer from diseases that might be cured through stem-cell research. Although he vowed to keep an open mind, he ultimately found himself unable to sanction what he believes to be the continued killing of human life.
"My position on these issues is shaped by deeply held beliefs," he said. "I'm a strong supporter of science and technology, and believe they have the potential for incredible good — to improve lives, to save life, to conquer disease.
"Research offers hope that millions of our loved ones may be cured of a disease and rid of their suffering. I have friends whose children suffer from juvenile diabetes.
"Nancy Reagan has written me about President Reagan's struggle with Alzheimer's," Mr. Bush added. "My own family has confronted the tragedy of childhood leukemia. And like all Americans, I have great hope for cures."
Mr. Bush drafted his speech with the help of White House counselor Karen Hughes. His meetings with advocates on both sides of the issue were arranged mostly by his senior political strategist, Karl Rove.
"As we go forward, I hope we will always be guided by both intellect and heart, by both our capabilities and our conscience," the president concluded. "I have made this decision with great care, and I pray it is the right one."

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