Sunday, July 8, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Stem-cell research must proceed

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President Bush should listen to the moderates and even some conservatives in his party who have urged him to approve federal funding for stem-cell research.

The Republican Main Street Partnership, an alliance of 60 GOP House and Senate members, recently sent a letter to the White House expressing support for the controversial medical research that uses human embryonic stem cells.

U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Bellevue, wrote her own letter to Bush, signed by a group of her colleagues, urging him to back the research. Senate stem-cell research supporters are near the 60 votes necessary to derail a filibuster.

Scientists believe the stem cells obtained from days-old embryos may lead to a dazzling array of treatments for diseases, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, spinal-cord injuries and diabetes. Most embryos are left over from fertility clinics but they can also come from specialized tissue of aborted fetuses. A utilitarian argument for using what otherwise would be discarded should be made.

The Catholic Church and many pro-life conservatives, noting that work on the embryos destroys them, compares stem-cell research to abortion.

Not even close. Abortion and the science of embryonic stem cells are entirely different. Anti-abortion conservatives, including Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, note that the most pro-life position is the one supporting efforts to save existing lives. By some estimates, 100 million people suffer from conditions that could be helped through stem-cell developments.

Some fear scientists' race to prolong life will turn into Frankenscience. But stem-cell research is science that helps us.

If taxpayer funds are used to support this research, the science would be far more likely to come under careful oversight and ethical regulation.

The White House is searching for a compromise, including greater support for studies on adult stem cells. But the government's own scientists have said embryonic cells are superior.

Moreover, shifting directions could cost scientists time and momentum.

In the end, we are left with the breathtaking possibility that science is on the cusp of saving millions of people suffering from debilitating illnesses. President Bush should allow scientists to plunge into this most promising frontier.


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