Girding himself for what is likely to be continued political controversy, US President George W. Bush told a radio interviewer his aim in approving limited federal funding for stem cell research was to promote a "culture of life".
"My job is to foster a culture of life in America. And I believe I've done so through this decision," he told ABC News in an interview Friday.
Bush added that he was now "very comfortable" with the decision, which his aides have emphasized was taken only after consultations with the broadest spectrum of scientific and ethical opinion.
As US television coverage lined up numerous Hollywood stars to endorse Bush's decision, the president cautioned that no medical breakthroughs were guaranteed.
"There are a lot in the science community who would tell you that we don't know whether or not embryonic stem cell research will yield treatment and cures," he said.
Bush's decision, announced late Thursday, restricts federal funding to just 60 existing, genetically diverse stem cell lines culled from already destroyed embryos.
The White House spelled out that federal funds would only be used for research from embryos created solely for reproductive purposes.
Bush did not support taxpayers' money going to the creation of embryos for research purposes or the cloning of human embryos for any purpose, it stated.
But the debate over this compromise, designed to placate the Republican party's conservative base while satisfying scientists who want to push ahead with research, will next month shift to Congress.
Many lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have been vocal in advocating a freeing-up of funding for such research and some would have liked to see it go further.
Congressional hearings on the issue are scheduled to begin on September 5, as soon as Congress reconvenes.
The leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate, Tom Daschle, issued a conciliatory-sounding statement Friday, saying he was "heartened" by Bush's agreement that some funding could be channeled to stem cell research.
But House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt called Bush's proposal the "bare minimum".
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.
Opponents, including conservatives who share Bush's opposition to abortion, charge that the destruction of an embryo, in whatever context, amounts to ending a human life.
Bush in his television interview was careful to maintain his pro-life position but in a nuanced form.
He said he personally believed that life began at conception.
But he was well aware there was "widespread disagreement about that issue".
"And the truth of the matter is, if you really think it through, that's a decision that only the great creator could come and explain to us. Or an answer the great creator could explain to us," Bush said -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
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