58 Senators Send Letter Asking Bush To Relax Policy on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding
A bipartisan group of 58 U.S. senators on Friday sent a letter to President Bush urging him to loosen restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, Reuters/Boston Globe reports. The letter -- which was signed by 14 Republicans, one Independent and 43 Democrats, including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) -- said that Bush's current policy offers "difficult challenges" to individuals who are seeking cures or new treatments for Alzheimer's and other diseases (Ferraro, Reuters/Boston Globe, 6/8). Bush's policy, which he announced on Aug. 9, 2001, limits federally funded stem cell research to embryonic stem cell lines created on or before that date. The policy allows federal funding for experiments involving stem cells already derived from embryos but not for research that would cause the destruction of additional embryos. Although supporters of embryonic stem cell research say it could lead to treatments or cures for diseases such as cancer, juvenile diabetes and Alzheimer's, opponents say the research is immoral because it requires the destruction of human embryos (California Healthline, 5/17). The Senate letter says, "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" (AP/Washington Times, 6/8). The Senate letter "echoe[s]" a similar letter sent to Bush in April by a bipartisan group of 206 House members, Reuters/Globe reports (Reuters/Boston Globe, 6/8).
Although the Senate letter was sent before former President Reagan's death on Saturday, it could have "special resonance" in light of his death from Alzheimer's disease, the Washington Post reports (Weiss, Washington Post, 6/8). Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who wrote the Senate letter, said that Reagan's death and the stem cell advocacy of his widow, Nancy Reagan, could influence conservatives on the issue, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer (Chatterjee, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/8). Hatch said in a statement, "In our attempt to ban human reproductive cloning, we should not close the door on a form of scientific research -- nuclear transplantation -- that has the potential of curing millions of debilitating and life-threatening diseases," adding, "As a right-to-life senator, I believe that a critical part of a pro-life, pro-family philosophy is helping the living" (Hatch release, 6/7). Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) on Sunday said he hopes a loosening of restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research will be one of "the most enduring legacies" of Reagan's life, the Boston Herald reports (Miga, Boston Herald, 6/7). Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said that advocacy for embryonic stem cell research should not be part of Reagan's legacy, adding, "You would be hard-pressed to find anyone familiar with his position who would believe that President Reagan would be in Hatch's camp on this. It was widely reported during his presidency that Nancy Reagan did not agree with President Reagan on the abortion issue, so somebody who doesn't have a problem with abortion would not have a problem with destroying human embryos for research" (Smith, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/8). A White House spokesperson said that Bush will not alter his position on embryonic stem cell research because he believes "we should not cross a fundamental moral line by funding or encouraging the destruction of human embryos" (CongressDaily, 6/8).
CBS' "Evening News" on Monday reported on Nancy Reagan's support of stem cell research. The segment includes comments from Nancy Reagan; Dr. Laurel Coleman, a member of the Alzheimer's Association's board of directors; Reagan family spokesperson Joanne Drake; Alzheimer's Association President Sheldon Goldberg; and Dan Perry of CAMR (Hughes, "Evening News," CBS, 6/7). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.