Bush Appears to Please Friends and Foes With Stem Cell Decision
US President George W. Bush appeared to have pleased both friends and foes late Thursday, as moderates welcomed his decision to allow federal funding for stem cell research and conservatives praised the limits imposed on it.
In political terms, he seems to have succeeded in defusing a massive revolt within his conservative base, as some of the most implacable critics of stem cell research signaled their readiness to go along with the president.
"What I heard him say tonight I can live with," said the Reverend Jerry Falwell, one of the most prominent leaders of the religious right.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can evolve into blood, liver, muscle and other cells. Researchers hope they can one day be used to repair damaged organs or cure diseases such as Parkinson's, diabetes and Alzheimer's.
In his nationally-televised address, Bush said he would restrict federal funding to just 60 existing, genetically diverse stem cell lines culled from already destroyed embryos and able to regenerate themselves indefinitely.
"I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines, where the life-and-death decision has already been made," Bush said.
This decision, along with Bush's strong denunciation of human cloning, allowed many conservatives to breathe a sigh of relief.
House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts, who together with Representatives Tom DeLay and Richard Armey had sent a letter to Bush pleading not to allow funding for the research, called Thursday's announcement the result of "a fair and balanced deliberation."
"While I wouldn't reach the same conclusion, President Bush's position maintains the principle that taxpayer dollars should not be used for the destruction of human embryos for any purpose." Watts said.
DeLay, while declaring himself "disappointed," refrained from appeals for congressional action to block stem cell research that many had expected from the combative Republican House Majority Whip.
Conservative Republican Senator Sam Brownback, who has been on record opposing the funding, expressed satisfaction with the limitations imposed by Bush.
"I'm pleased about his strong support for a ban on human cloning, because really we shouldn't be going down the line of cloning human beings for research purposes, or for any purposes," he told CNN.
The irreconcilable opposition was led by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which said the new stem cell research policy was "morally wrong."
"We hope and pray that President Bush will return to a principled stand against treating some human lives as nothing more than objects to be manipulated and destroyed for research purposes," said Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the conference, which traditionally toes the Vatican's line -- Pope John Paul II is strongly opposed to stem cell research.
However, the president scored a politically important point with the scientific community when the Biotechnology Industry Organization, representing more than 1,000 biotechnology companies and academic institutions, gave him a thumbs up.
"The president's decision is a major step forward for patients and the biotechnology industry," said BIO President Carl Feldbaum. "This was a good, clear, balanced outcome."
Congressional Democrats, who generally support federal funding for stem cell research, cautiously welcomed the president's decision but criticized the restrictions imposed on scientists.
"This is the first step that the president has taken," Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee told MSNBC television.
"I'm willing to study it and analyze it," she said. "But I'm also willing to join my colleagues in the United States Congress to be able to look to expand it." -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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