- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

President Bush is tackling so many health care issues — stem-cell research, a patients' bill of rights and discount prescription drugs — that he is beginning to sound more like the surgeon general than the commander-in-chief.
With his legislative agenda stalled by liberal Democrats in the Senate, Mr. Bush has decided to seize the initiative on health care, which the White House recognizes as a popular issue among many Americans. The aggressive stance is reflected in this week's presidential schedule, which began with a visit to a Virginia hospital on Monday.
Yesterday, Mr. Bush railed against a version of the patients' bill of rights that caters to "people who want to sue everybody" and urged passage of a competing version that limits lawsuits.
Today, the president will propose that elderly Americans receive discount cards for prescription drugs. It will be one of numerous proposals by the president for reforming Medicare.
Tomorrow, Mr. Bush travels to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to continue pushing his health care agenda.
All week long, the president has been meeting with pro-lifers, bioethicists and people who suffer from debilitating diseases as he wrestles with the moral and political ramifications of whether to allow researchers to kill human embryos in order to harvest their stem cells. Although some consider the cells promising in the war against diseases, the White House yesterday reiterated that Mr. Bush believes that life begins at conception.
Of all the medical issues on the president's plate, stem-cell research carries the greatest immediate political risk. If he bans the research, he will be cast as insensitive to victims of disease. If he approves the research, he will be accused of betraying conservatives, pro-lifers and Catholics, who consider the practice tantamount to murder.
The president appears to be seeking a compromise that will allow him to play the role of King Solomon. He is struggling to balance the right to life of the unborn on one hand with the question of "preserving life with science on the other hand, " said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
"It is a very complicated and nuanced decision and it's something the president is approaching in a very thoughtful and deliberative fashion," he added.
"He will make the decision on his own timetable and he is going to listen to a lot of parties and face the complexities that this issue raises for everybody," he said.
But the ante was raised yesterday when it was revealed that a Virginia firm has created embryos for the sole purpose of stem-cell research, not in-vitro fertilization.
"The revelation that there are groups that are now creating stem cells for the sole purpose of research is a perfect illustration of the deep complexities that our society faces as a result of science and life," Mr. Fleischer said. "Even scientists who are involved in stem-cell research have raised questions about what took place in Virginia."
While a presidential decision on stem-cell research could come as early as tomorrow, it will take longer for Mr. Bush to navigate the political waters of a patients' bill of rights. While this traditionally has been a Democratic issue, the White House is wary of opposing such a politically popular measure.
In order to pre-empt Democrats, who want to give patients denied medical coverage the ability to sue health maintenance organizations (HMOs) for unlimited sums, the president is pushing for a more modest measure that will limit lawsuits.

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