WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Tuesday marks the fourth anniversary of President Bush's landmark decision on embryonic-stem-cell research, and an advocacy group wants to capitalize on the occasion.
"On Aug. 9, advocates from throughout the nation will call the White House and urge President Bush to support a change in the current stem cell policy and allow this research to flourish in the U.S.," said Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a consortium of universities, patient groups and scientific societies that support embryonic-stem-cell research.
On Aug. 9, 2001, Bush limited federal funding of the research to lines of stem cells in existence on or prior to that date. The available lines, however, proved to be far fewer than thought. In addition, they all may have contamination problems that make them unsuitable for use in humans because they were initially grown on animal cells.
The House passed legislation in May known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act that would ease the restrictions. It would allow federal funds to be used on stem-cell lines derived from surplus embryos at fertilization clinics that would otherwise be discarded. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., recently broke with the president and said he supported the legislation, but so far the bill has not been brought for a vote in the Senate. Bush has said he would veto the legislation if it passes.
"After four very long years, thousands of meetings with members of Congress, a multitude of press conferences, town hall meetings, patient calls and letters, we are finally at a point where real change not only seems possible, but probable," Perry said.
Embryonic stem cells can give rise to any cell type in the body. Although scientists think the cells hold great promise for leading to insights and even cures for various diseases, the research is controversial and opposed by some because current techniques require the destruction of a human embryo to obtain the stem cells.
"The president has a chance now to join millions of Americans in supporting research that has real potential to cure disease and save lives," Perry said. "We urge him to take this chance and not stand in the way of scientific progress any longer," he added.
The White House said Bush's position on stem cells had not changed from his 2001 decision.
"This is a president who strongly believes in advancing medical research and also believes in working to maintain the highest ethical standards in research," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius told United Press International. "The president feels taxpayer dollars shouldn't be going to research where human life is created for the sole purpose of destroying it," Lisaius added.
Sean Tipton, spokesman for CAMR, told UPI the bill pending in the Senate would meet Bush's criteria because it does not authorize federal funding to be used to derive the stem-cell lines. That would have to be covered by private funding.
"The bill does not allow federal funding for destruction of embryos and does not allow federal funding for creation of embryos just for research, so we think when the White House carefully evaluates what's in (the legislation) ... they will decide they can support this bill," Tipton said.
The White House, however, said those provisions still would not affect Bush's position.
"His position is unchanged," Lisaius said.