- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards yesterday assailed the Bush administration’s policy on embryonic stem-cell research, promising to overturn it if elected, but Republicans countered by saying the policy is being misrepresented.

“We have a plan to have groundbreaking stem-cell research done … they are blocking that research,” the North Carolina senator said of the Bush administration. “The research that needs to be conducted and can be conducted is being stopped by the administration’s policy.”

Mr. Edwards promised that he and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, if elected, would overturn Mr. Bush’s “ban” on federal funding for research on new embryonic stem-cell lines. An earlier Kerry-Edwards press release went even further, calling the administration’s policy a flat-out “ban on federal funding of embryonic stem- cell research.”

Yesterday marked the third anniversary of Mr. Bush’s policy, which limited federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research to 60 embryonic stem-cell lines that already had been created as of August 2001.

Critics say the limited policy is slowing research in a critical field that could yield cures for many diseases. Conservatives and religious groups, however, argue that destroying embryos to gather their stem cells is morally wrong. Mr. Bush’s policy attempts to strike a middle ground.

But a top White House official said the Kerry-Edwards campaign is distorting the truth by calling Mr. Bush’s policy “a ban” on federal funding.

“That is blatantly false and misleading and really speaks to a serious credibility problem,” said senior White House adviser Jay Lefkowitz during a Bush-Cheney ‘04 conference call yesterday.

Mr. Lefkowitz said Mr. Bush’s policy, announced in August 2001, actually marked the first time the U.S. government authorized the funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

“The fact is, this president was the first to open the doors for federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who noted that federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research in fiscal year 2003 was $24.8 million — “up from zero in the previous administration.”

While some Republicans have pushed for an expanded embryonic stem-cell policy, first lady Laura Bush yesterday defended her husband’s approach, arguing that “we don’t even know that stem-cell research will provide cures for anything — much less that it’s very close” to yielding the major breakthroughs of which some speak.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kerry was asked yesterday whether his belief that life begins at conception is at odds with his support of embryonic stem-cell research.

“It is entirely within ethical bounds to do embryonic stem-cell research without violating one’s beliefs at all about what life is or where it is and what matters,” the Massachusetts senator said. “I think you have to measure it also against the lives you save, against the diseases that you’re curing.”

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, who said adult stem-cell research is producing real cures while 20 years of embryonic stem-cell research in animals has produced none, called Mr. Kerry’s stance a “very utilitarian view.”

A recent poll by the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey found that 64 percent favor federal funding of research using stem cells taken from human embryos, while 28 percent oppose it.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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