- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Lawmakers for and against funding embryonic stem-cell research yesterday put human faces on the issues of human life and disease in a bid to persuade President Bush to act in their favor.
Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, urged passage of a resolution backing federal funding for research on embryonic cells that scientists believe can regenerate damaged organs. "There is no room for compromise on stem-cell research," said Mrs. Morella, whose district contains one of the nation's largest biotech corridors.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the New York Democrat who introduced the legislation, called the funding "a matter of life and death."
A news conference in support of stem-cell research included senators from both parties and featured "seven faces," people with seven ailments that scientists hoped to cure with more funding Rett syndrome, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, breast cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spinal injury and infertility.
An hour later, testimony in Republican-led House hearings featured contrary arguments.
Lawmakers said it was "speculative" to make such curative claims for embryonic stem cells, while stem cells taken from tissues of adults are proving increasingly successful in treating ailments.
Rep. Dave Weldon, Florida Republican and a medical doctor, said "the ethical path we are going to take" with embryonic stem cells has too many pitfalls when the science is unproven.
"Embryonic stem-cell research to me is entirely hypothetical," Mr. Weldon said.
He said it has not yet been applied even to animal models. "I would challenge anyone who makes the assertion [that embryonic stem cells are better than adult cells] to debate me on the merits," he said.
Marlene Staege, accompanied by her husband, John, and daughter Hannah, told the House Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources how giving birth to an adopted embryo proved to her it was a human life, not just cells.
Hannah was "no mere dot" as an embryo, she said. "She contained the entire blueprint of life." To conceive Hannah, Mrs. Staege adopted 19 "sibling" embryos.
The legislative debate comes as Mr. Bush must decide whether to renew or rescind a funding exemption issued by the Clinton administration in August.
The Clinton order let the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issue guidelines allowing federally funded scientists to bypass a 1995 law banning public funding for creation or harvesting of human embryos solely for research.
The pro-life side of the debate has been complicated by the defections of some conservative leaders, such as Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, who urged funding.
"I became convinced that the Clinton administration decision is permissible," Mr. Hatch said at the "seven faces" news conference. "If the federal government does not help set the regulations, the private sector is going to move forward, no matter what."
Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat and a psychiatrist, said the president would decide "whether or not we are going to have science in this country." In an interview, he said while embryos produced in a test tube clearly are different from the human lives at issue in cloning and abortion, opponents merge them all together. "I oppose human cloning. I don't mind cloning human cells," he said.
The NIH is expected to argue today, in a report sought by the administration in February, for pushing ahead with stem-cell studies using human embryos.
The report, a draft copy of which was leaked yesterday in advance of its formal presentation, said both embryonic and adult stem cells "present immense research opportunities for potential therapy."
But NIH said embryonic stem cells are preferable, citing their ability to transform themselves into virtually every type of cell in the body and their greater abundance in embryos than in fully grown people.
"Current evidence indicates that the capability of adult stem cells to give rise to many different specialized cell types is more limited than that of embryonic stem cells," the NIH said.

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