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Siding with science.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Though the media spotlight seems to shine only on the sharp differences between its supporters and opponents, embryonic stem cell research has a growing pro-life, pro-science constituency.

The fact that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, an accomplished heart-lung transplant surgeon, just joined that constituency is certainly buzzworthy for political reasons. But it's not surprising that a physician - even a conservative, anti-abortion, Republican physician - supports pursuing the promise of lifesaving treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis offered by embryonic stem cells.

Much is being made of Frist's break with President Bush on the issue of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, though the logic of Frist's decision is crystal clear. In 2001, Bush restricted federal research funding to the 78 stem cell lines in existence at the time, a compromising of his staunch pro-life position for which he isn't given enough credit.

Now, however, only 22 of those original stem cell lines remain viable and eligible for federal funding. With deterioration and contamination threatening to further reduce the available lines, Frist the physician realized that vital research would be curtailed if Bush's limits weren't relaxed.

Too bad Bush lacks Frist's ability to change direction when new information enters the equation. The president is stubbornly sticking by his refusal to reconsider his outmoded restrictions. Instead, he promises to exercise the first veto of his two-term presidency if the Senate, as is expected, passes a bill to liberalize the existing policy.

Bush isn't alone in having religious objections to embryonic stem cell research, but he is part of a shrinking minority. A recent poll indicates 74 percent of Americans support relaxing restrictions on funding stem cell studies, even though embryos are destroyed in the process.

Stem cells are removed from fertilized embryos at the blastocyst stage, about 96 hours after fertilization. Such blastocysts are clusters of cells without human form, organ structures or even the hint of a pri- mitive brain.

Substantial numbers of pro-life Republicans support embryonic stem cell research within the para- meters proposed by Congress. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, as passed by the House, limits federal funding to research on stem cells that were "derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment."

Here's the key sentence: "Prior to the consideration of embryo dona- tion ... it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded."

Never be implanted (adopted) and would otherwise be discarded. Those are clear enough guidelines to bring anti-abortion stalwarts such as Frist and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch on board.

Despite his veto pledge, Bush has time before the Senate vote to give the matter further thought. The president could honor his religious convictions and still serve the interests of three-quarters of the American people by letting the bill become law without his signature.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Frist comes out in favor of stem cell funding
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 7, 2005
Next Article:Go where facts lead.

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