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Bush responds to Congress stem cell letter

17 May 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 258

The Bush administration has responded to a letter sent from Congress members to the president earlier this month, which called for a relaxation of federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research.

The letter, signed by 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 funding is limited to scientists for work on ES cell lines already in existence on 9 August 2001, which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 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 the progress of research in the US.

Now, policy-makers have openly acknowledged that the ES cell policy may hamper American research. Dr Elias Zerhouni, director of the NIH, wrote a 'carefully worded' letter to Congress on Bush's request and with the White House's backing. In it, he 'reiterated the Bush administration's position', while also conceding that the availability of additional ES cell lines to federally funded US researchers could increase scientific progress. The letter stated: 'Although it is fair to say that from a purely scientific perspective more stem cell lines may well speed some areas of human embryonic stem cell research, the president's position is still predicated on his belief that taxpayer funds should not 'sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life''.

Last week, members of the US Senate also began to circulate a similar letter to that sent by Congress. According to the Washington Post, this petition has collected about 50 signatures so far. Meanwhile, in a public address to the graduation ceremony of Wisconsin's Concordia University last Friday, President Bush gave some hints as to the continuance of his stem cell policy when he called for the promotion of a 'culture of life' in the US. Although he made no specific mention of abortion or ES cell research, it was evident that he referred to both when he said 'A compassionate society shows a special concern for those at the beginning of life, those at the end of life and those who struggle in life with disabilities'. He added: 'Life is not just a tool or commodity or a means to other ends... Nothing good or just can be built on the destruction or suffering of others'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Bush's Stem Cell Policy Reiterated, but Some See Shift
The Washington Post |  16 May 2004
NIH Director Restates Bush Administration Position on Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Says More Lines Could Speed Research
Kaiser Network |  17 May 2004
President Bush Calls for 'Culture of Life' in Concordia University Commencement Speech
Kaiser Network |  17 May 2004
Stem Cell Research on Course, Director Says
Los Angeles Times |  16 May 2004
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