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Nancy Reagan, 206 in Congress weigh in against Bush on stem cell research

WASHINGTON (BP)–The wife of a pro-life, former president of the United States and just over 200 of Congress’ 535 members have increased the volume on their calls for legalized research on human embryos.

Nancy Reagan made her latest endorsement of embryonic stem cell research at a Hollywood fundraiser May 8. That followed an April 28 letter from 206 congressional members calling for President Bush to loosen his limitations on federal funding of such experimentation.

Pro-life advocates, however, remain steadfast in their support of the president’s policy.

“Fortunately, we have a president whose moral compass is secure,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “He understands the issue. He understands that we’re talking about killing unborn human beings, and fortunately, the American people have elected a president who is not willing to do that.”

For nearly three years, a presidential order has barred federal grants for stem cell research that results in the destruction of embryos. The procurement of stem cells from an embryo only days old brings about the death of the tiny human being.

Stem cells are primitive cells from which cells and tissues in the human body develop. Their discovery in 1998 has provided hope for treating a variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes. Scientists largely have promoted research on embryonic stem cells, though adult stem cells, which can be obtained without destroying or harming human beings, already have proven effective in treating some maladies.

Reagan spoke of her husband, former President Ronald Reagan, who has Alzheimer’s, when she appeared at a Beverly Hills dinner sponsored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which supports embryonic research.

“Ronnie’s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him,” she said, according to a report in The Washington Post. “Because of this, I’m determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain.

“Science has presented us with a hope called stem cell research, which may provide our scientists with many answers that for so long have been beyond our grasp…. We have lost so much time already. I just really can’t bear to lose any more,” said Reagan, who had expressed in the past her support for such research.

The congressional letter, which was signed by 36 Republicans, called for Bush to liberalize his policy, since fewer than 20 stem cell colonies are eligible for government funding. Rep. Diana DeGette, D.-Colo., who led the effort, said the president’s policy “has not only hindered the progress of potentially life-saving research, it has had a chilling effect on science.”

In his 2001 order, Bush permitted funding for research on the colonies of existing stem cells in which, as he put it, “the life-and-death decision has already been made.” Such colonies proved to be far fewer than expected, however.

Don Buckley, a fellow with the ERLC’s Research Institute and a family physician in Pensacola, Fla., said in a statement to Baptist Press, “Human embryos are human beings no matter how they are produced -– natural fertilization, in vitro fertilization or via cloning -– and no matter where they currently reside –- whether inside a mother’s womb or in a test tube. They are worthy of our respect, as we are worthy, for we are all made in the image of God.

“President Reagan himself understood the dignity of human embryonic life,” Buckley said. “In his book, ‘Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation,’ he wrote, ‘We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life -– the unborn -– without diminishing the value of all human life … [The] real issue is whether to affirm and protect the sanctity of all human life or to embrace a social ethic where some human lives are valued and others are not.’”

Though the ERLC and other pro-life groups oppose embryonic stem cell research, they support the non-harmful use of stem cells from such sources as placentas, umbilical cord blood and adult bone marrow.

“I support, along with many others, research with stem cells that does not involve the killing of unborn human beings,” Land said. “Fortunately, virtually all of the most promising research in the area of stem cells has been done with non-embryonic stem cells, and some truly remarkable things are being done with adult stem cells. The research to this point with embryonic stem cells has been catastrophically disappointing.

“Even if it were to hold some promise for cure,” he said, “the price is too high when you’re talking about killing human beings to harvest their tissue to seek cures for older and bigger human beings.”

Carrie Gordon Earll, a bioethics specialist for Focus on the Family, said in a written release the “best financial investment our government can make in stem cell research centers on non-embryonic sources. Therapies using stem cells from sources like bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and the pancreas have already successfully treated patients with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and multiple sclerosis.”

Research with embryonic stem cells so far has uncovered some problems, including the formation of tumors.

The Beverly Hills dinner at which Reagan spoke raised $2 million for stem cell research, according to the Associated Press. Among those at the dinner were actors Dustin Hoffman, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox and Calista Flockhart, as well as talk show host Larry King, AP reported.

California voters could decide in November if their state will fund embryonic research. Nearly 2 million signatures, about twice as many as needed, were collected to place the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative on the ballot, according to the Daily Bruin, a UCLA newspaper. The initiative would set aside $3 billion to fund in-state research during a 10-year period, the paper reported. The California secretary of state must verify the signatures.