Administration ‘Deeply Divided’ Over Stem Cell Research, Thompson Says
Questions over federal funding of embryonic stem cell research have "deeply divided" the Bush administration, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson told a meeting of writers and editors from the Washington Post yesterday. Guidelines adopted by the Clinton administration allowed funding of the "controversial" research, which involves extracting stem cells from embryos, thereby destroying the embryo, as long as the extraction was carried out by private groups. But that funding was put on hold by Bush administration officials who wanted to review the "scientific and ethical implications" of the research. The funding debate has redrawn "traditional allegiances in the abortion debate," with some abortion-rights opponents labeling the research "akin to experimenting on the unborn" and others, including some "pro-life Republicans," calling for funding of the research, which could lead to "groundbreaking treatments" for disease such as Parkinson's and diabetes. Former Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) are among those supporting research funding. Officials within the "upper echelons" of the administration remain divided as well. As governor of Wisconsin, Thompson had praised the University of Wisconsin researcher who discovered embryonic stem cells and said yesterday that he hopes such research will be permitted to continue while "tak[ing] into consideration the legal and ethical questions." Bush adviser Karl Rove has "led the camp that opposes" federal funding of the research because of concern over losing the "Catholic vote," while Vice President Dick Cheney is said to be "receptive to a possible research compromise" on the issue, the Post reports. Bush has said that he supports federal funding for adult stem cell research, but some in the research community "question whether those cells have the same therapeutic potential" as embryonic stem cells. "You have a lot of people touting one or the other. But there has not been the basic, pure scientific review as to whether one is better than another," Thompson said.
"Despite the complex and polarized nature of the debate," Thompson said that a compromise may be reached "within the next few weeks." He also indicated that he is "prepared to make the final call" on federal funding if the president asks him to. "If I had my personal druthers, sure I'd make the decision," he said. However, Cheney spokesperson Juleanna Glover "emphasiz[ed]" that Bush will have the final say on the issue. "This is something the White House is handling. [This is] a decision the president is going to make," she said. Bush has requested "more information" on the matter, and the president's desire to "find a way that will be unifying rather than divisive" is contributing to the delay of the review, Thompson said, adding, "This president wants to be involved and he should be." He added, "Everything is on the table. I think there is an answer there that we are all working on that is going to allow research to continue with some moderations, but one that will be hopefully satisfactory to the various views that are very polarized at this point" (Connolly/Weiss, Washington Post, 6/12). To view a conversation between Thompson and Post reporter Charles Babington, go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/mmedia/politics/061101-12v.htm. Note: You will need the latest version of Real Player to view the conversation.