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 CNS Story:
REAGAN-STEMCELL Jun-15-2004 (650 words) xxxn

Reagan death stirs debate over human embryonic stem-cell research

By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The death of former President Ronald Reagan after his long struggle with Alzheimer's disease has rekindled debate over government funding of human embryonic stem-cell research.

Under scrutiny is President Bush's policy, announced Aug. 9, 2001, which allowed funding for those embryonic stem-cell lines already developed but prohibited federal funding for future stem-cell lines. The policy does not prevent private funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

Supporters of relaxing current policy -- including Reagan's wife, Nancy -- said that such research is needed to develop cures for Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases and conditions.

Opponents of human embryonic stem-cell research, such as the U.S. bishops, argue that such research involves the destruction of human life and that alternative research is available using adult stem cells.

On June 14 the Bush administration rejected the calls to change the policy.

"The president came up with a policy that will allow us to explore the promise of stem-cell research, and do so in a way that doesn't cross a certain moral threshold," said Scott McClellan, White House spokesman.

Nancy Reagan reignited the debate about a month before her husband's death when she spoke in favor of human embryonic stem-cell research at a biomedical gathering in Los Angeles.

After Ronald Reagan's June 5 death, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, endorsed Nancy Reagan's position and asked Bush to soften his policy on funding human embryonic stem-cell research.

"I know there are ethical issues, but people of good will and good sense can resolve them," Kerry said in a June 13 radio address.

Kerry also was one of 58 senators who signed a letter to Bush a few days earlier that asked for a relaxed policy. Among the signers were more than a dozen Republicans, several of whom oppose abortion.

"We would very much like to work with you to modify the current embryonic stem-cell policy," said the letter.

A similar letter was sent to Bush in April by 200 members of the House of Representatives.

The House letter was immediately criticized by Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.

"Besides demonstrating a lack of respect for developing human life, that letter also relies on demonstrably false factual claims," said Doerflinger in a letter to House members released April 29.

Doerflinger added that human embryonic stem-cell lines "may develop genetic abnormalities" thus "preventing their use in humans for the foreseeable future."

U.S. patients have limited access to some new treatments "in part because the U.S. fixation on embryo research has let other countries take the lead in groundbreaking adult cell therapies" for juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injury and cardiac repair, he said.

Although Reagan's struggle with Alzheimer's is being used to lobby Bush to relax government restrictions, it is questionable whether Reagan, who championed pro-life causes during his 1981-89 presidency, would have favored government funding of human embryonic stem-cell research.

The 40th U.S. president supported the concept that human life begins at fertilization and favored legislation that would have granted constitutional rights to unborn human beings.

William Clark, national security adviser and secretary of the interior under Reagan, said Reagan "consistently opposed federal support for the destruction of innocent human life."

Reagan "began a de facto ban on federal financing of embryo research that he held to throughout his presidency," wrote Clark in an opinion piece published June 11 in The New York Times.

"I have no doubt that he would have urged our nation to look to adult stem-cell research -- which has yielded many clinical successes -- and away from the destruction of developing human lives, which has yielded none," wrote Clark.

The U.S. bishops have consistently opposed any type of experimentation that destroys human embryos. At their meeting last November, they updated their investment guidelines to prohibit investment in companies involved in human embryonic stem-cell research.


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