Fifty-eight senators are asking President Bush to relax federal restrictions on stem-cell research, and many said yesterday that former President Ronald Reagan’s death after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease made the case for expanding the research, which uses human embryos.
The senators’ letter to Mr. Bush was sent Friday, a day before Mr. Reagan died.
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said yesterday: “This issue is especially poignant given President Reagan’s passing. Embryonic stem-cell research might hold the key to a cure for Alzheimer’s and other terrible diseases.”
Last month, former first lady Nancy Reagan appeared at a fund-raising dinner in Los Angeles to promote stem cell research.
“We would very much like to work with you to modify the current embryonic stem cell policy so that it provides this area of research the greatest opportunity to lead to the treatments and cures for which we are all hoping,” the senators wrote Bush.
The letter was signed by 42 Democrats, including presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts, 15 Republicans and the Senate’s lone independent. Some of the Republicans are conservatives who oppose abortion.
Stem cells typically are taken from days-old human embryos and grown in a laboratory into lines or colonies. The embryos are killed when the cells are extracted, and thus the process is opposed by pro-life groups and moral and religious leaders.
Mr. Bush signed an executive order in August 2001 limiting federal funding for stem-cell research to 78 embryonic stem cell lines then in existence.
But the letter says that only 19 of those lines are now available to researchers and that they are contaminated with mouse feeder cells, which makes their use for humans uncertain.
Signers included Democrats Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Republicans Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
“Maybe one of the small blessings that will come from [Reagan’s] passing will be a greater opportunity for Nancy to work on this issue, which of course means so much to her,” Mr. Hatch said. “I believe that it’s going to be pretty tough for anybody not to have empathy for her feelings on this issue.”
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said Mr. Bush stood by his stem-cell policy.
“The president remains committed to exploring the promise of stem-cell research, but at the same time continues to believe strongly that we should not cross a fundamental moral line by funding or encouraging the destruction of human embryos,” he said.