- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

President Bush stands on the precipice of one of the most politically risky decisions of his young presidency: whether to allow research using embryonic stem cells or ban the practice altogether, as he vowed to do during his campaign.
He must choose between angering liberal Democrats, who argue the research holds the key to curing diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, or conservative Republicans, who hold that life begins at conception and there is no such thing as a "surplus" embryo.
Any compromise likely will anger both sides.
"The administration thus far has badly handled this," said Richard Lessner, executive director of American Renewal, the lobbying arm of Family Research Council, which opposes embryonic stem cell research. "They have let it grow into a much bigger issue than it needed to be. Both sides have escalated the rhetoric and what's at stake."
Supporters of the research argue that the embryos now destroyed to harvest stem cells are "surplus" in that they are provided by parents who have produced extra embryos for in vitro fertilization. Because the unused embryos are destroyed according to the parents' wishes, researchers say, they are not really taking the life of an unborn child.
Morton Kondracke, the Washington journalist whose book "Saving Milly" lays out a case for embryonic stem cell research in search of a cure for Parkinson's disease, predicts the president will opt for a compromise.
"I've heard one theory in the administration: 'Let's go, we'll do a compromise that's satisfactory to nobody and kick the issue to Congress and let Congress try to solve the problem.' Then Bush wouldn't have to visit it again until he has to figure out whether to sign or veto a bill, if Congress can come up with something different."
Said Mr. Lessner: "There's zero political coverage for that."
But the White House has begun waffling on Mr. Bush's position, clearly stated during his campaign when he said he opposes federal financing of "experimentation on embryonic stem cells that require live human embryos to be discarded or destroyed."
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said this week that a new report that a Virginia company is creating human embryos from donated eggs and sperm exclusively to harvest embryonic stem cells for research is "a perfect illustration of the deep complexities" of the issue.
"The president views this as a reminder that this is not a simple matter, that this is a matter that involves very sensitive and important issues that involve questions that are fundamental about life — about preserving life with science, on the other hand," he said.
That differs from what the spokesman said in January. "Bush said he would oppose federally funded research or experimentation on embryonic stem cells that require live human embryos to be discarded or destroyed," Mr. Fleischer said then.
The Roman Catholic Church sees no gray area on the issue.
"Our position on this has been very clear," said Richard Doerflinger, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "We think anything that provides federal funds for research requiring the destruction of human embryos is morally wrong and is bad policy. We also think it's contrary to current statutory law."
At issue is the use of what are known as human pluripotent stem cells, microscopic cells harvested from embryos or fetal tissue. Such cells can develop into the specialized cells that form muscle, nerves, blood and eventually almost all other human body parts.
In 1995, Congress passed a law banning the use of federal money for creation of human embryos solely for research purposes, as well as all types of research in which embryos are "destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death."
The National Institutes of Health, encouraged by the Clinton administration, in August issued guidelines that allowed federally funded scientists to bypass the law, using stem cells provided by private laboratories. Such cells are not embryos, the guidelines said.
A surprising number of pro-life Republicans — including staunch conservative Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina — have backed embryonic stem cell research.
"Stem cell research facilitates life," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, who is aggressively lobbying for the research. "Abortion destroys life; this is about saving lives."

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