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Political side of US stem cell debate heats up

10 May 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 257

Following a letter from Congress members to President Bush last week calling for changes in federal restrictions on embryonic stemcell (ES cell) research, the White House has announced that it will send a representative to a meeting with the lawmakers to discuss the issue. House of Representatives members Diane De Gette, Michael Castle, and others involved with circulating the letter will meet with Kristin Lee Silverberg, an advisor to the president on stem cells.

In the letter, 206 representatives called for the president to change his policy, which has been in place since 9 August 2001, and prevents federal funds being used for ES cell research that would involve the destruction of embryos. Federal funds are limited to scientists for work on ES cell lines already in existence on 9 August 2001, which the National Institutes of Health estimated earlier this year to be a maximum of 23 of the 78 lines originally identified. The Congress members said that the policy has hindered research in the US.

The meeting will break a two year impasse on the issue of stem cells between lawmakers and the Bush administration. Trent Duffy, a spokesperson for the White House said that the fact a meeting had been arranged should not lead to suggestions that the policy was being reconsidered: 'The president maintains his opposition to the destruction of human embryos', he said. Duffy also said that the lawmakers can expect to receive a formal response to their letter 'soon'.

Members of the US Senate are currently also circulating a similar letter to that sent by Congress. Senator Arlen Specter promised last week that he would draft a letter to the president to be signed by members of the Senate. And the majority leader, Senator Bill Frist, a known supporter of Bush's policy, said that he believed it was time for it to be reviewed.

Stem cell research looks likely to become an election issue. Democratic candidate John Kerry, who last December criticised Bush for 'choosing ideology over science', supports ES cell research, and is adding to the pressure to change the policy in his campaign speeches.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Limits on stem cell research re-emerge as a political issue
The New York Times |  6 May 2004
White House representative to meet with House members on expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research
Kaiser Network |  10 May 2004
White House to Discuss Stem Cells With House
The Washington Post |  9 May 2004
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