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First lady defends her husband’s stem cell policy

WASHINGTON (BP)–First lady Laura Bush has defended her husband’s restriction on government funds for destructive stem cell research against Democratic criticism.

The first lady responded pointedly Aug. 9 to the latest attacks on President Bush’s funding ban by Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, describing the attacks as “ridiculous” and stating that hopes had been unjustly inflated for cures using embryonic stem cells.

On the same day, John Edwards, Kerry’s running mate, affirmed the Democratic ticket’s support for human cloning for research purposes.

In a speech to the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the first lady said government officials should consider the “ethical and moral implications” of the research, the Associated Press reported.

“I hope stem cell research will yield cures,” Bush said in her speech, according to The Washington Post. But “we don’t even know that stem cell research will provide cures for anything –- much less that it’s very close” to such cures, she said.

Her defense came on the third anniversary of the president’s announcement of his policy on stem cell research. Bush’s 2001 order blocked federal funds for stem cell research that requires the destruction of embryos but permitted grants for research on stem cell colonies already in existence. His order did not prohibit privately funded embryonic experimentation or federal funding of non-embryonic stem cell research.

The act of extracting embryonic stem cells destroys the embryo, which is usually five or six days old.

Kerry described Bush’s policy as a “far-reaching ban on stem cell research” during his radio address Aug. 7.

“At this very moment, some of the most pioneering cures and treatments are right at our fingertips, but because of the stem cell ban, they remain beyond our reach,” the Democratic nominee said. “Every day that we wait, more than 3,000 Americans lose their lives to diseases that may someday be treatable because of stem cell research.”

When Edwards and he “are sworn into office, we’re going to create a new anniversary –- one that will be a cause for celebration,” the senator from Massachusetts said. “We’re going to lift the ban on stem cell research. We’re going to listen to our scientists and stand up for science.”

Edwards, a senator from North Carolina, called Aug. 9 a “sad anniversary.”

A Kerry-Edwards administration would provide funding for research using stem cells obtained from embryos stored in fertility clinics, Edwards told reporters in a conference call, The Post reported. The parents of the embryos would have to provide consent, and an ethics committee would have to approve of the experiments, he said.

They would increase funding to at least $100 million for embryonic stem cell research, Edwards said, according to The Post.

Kerry and he also would endorse cloning to create embryos from which to obtain stem cells, Edwards said, according to the newspaper.

In an Aug. 9 interview with AP, Laura Bush rejected Kerry’s description of her husband’s policy as a ban.

“That’s so ridiculous,” she said. “It’s one of the myths that start during a campaign.”

Kerry is seeking to turn the president’s policy into a political issue “without saying what’s right,” she said. “I imagine he knows better.”

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-life organizations oppose embryonic stem cell research because of its harm to the embryo. However, they support research using stem cells from adults and other sources, such as umbilical cord blood and placentas. Procuring stem cells from such sources is harmless to the donors.

Research using stem cells from non-embryonic sources already has produced successful treatments for more than 40 diseases and afflictions, according to reports. Remedies have been reported for maladies such as heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.

So far, embryonic stem cell research has produced no effective treatments in human beings and has had a tendency to generate tumors in laboratory animals.

In other stem cell news:

— More than 2,000 members of the Christian Medical Association sent a July 30 letter to the president and Congress urging a greater investment in non-embryonic stem cell research. “The government needs to put taxpayers’ money into ethical research that will get us the most affordable cures for our patients in the quickest time,” CMA Executive Director David Stevens said in a written release.

— Joni Eareckson Tada, the well-known Christian speaker and author, supported non-embryonic research while opposing experimentation using embryos during an Aug. 3 appearance on “Larry King Live” on CNN. “I am exposed and vulnerable as a quadriplegic,” she said, “and I believe that people like me, the elderly, the frail, the unborn, our lives are in jeopardy in a society which begins to dismantle the safeguards around human life.”

— No less than 128 new embryonic stem cell colonies have been created internationally through privately funded research since Bush’s 2001 policy was announced, Harvard Medical School researcher George Daley has said, according to The Post. Only about 20 colonies exist so far that are eligible for federal funding under Bush’s guidelines.

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