Republicans for Stem Cell Research
The Bush administration's restrictions on federal funds for embryonic stem cell research are so potentially damaging to medicine that they are encountering opposition even among the administration's own conservative supporters. The latest sign of conservative misgivings came at a fund-raising gala sponsored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation last Saturday, when Nancy Reagan made a public plea for support of stem cell research. Although she did not specifically criticize the Bush policy, Mrs. Reagan described movingly how Alzheimer's had taken her husband ''to a distant place where I can no longer reach him.'' She expressed hope that stem cell research might provide new treatments for many diseases. ''I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this,'' she said, adding, ''We have lost so much time already, and I just really can't bear to lose any more.''
If that rebuke from a doyenne of the Republican right was not enough to give him pause, President Bush should note that three dozen Republicans, including some prominent anti-abortion conservatives, added their names to a recent letter from more than 200 House members urging him to relax his restrictions on supporting stem cell research. What has driven even anguished conservatives to back stem cell research is the plight of patients who suffer from Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, spinal cord injuries and other health problems that stem cell research may someday alleviate. Although many right-to-lifers consider it immoral to destroy a microscopic embryo in a petri dish to extract stem cells, those arguments begin to look abstract when posed against the terrible suffering of real-life patients.
Under the Bush policy, federal funds can be used for research only on embryonic stem cell lines that existed as of Aug. 9, 2001, the date the policy was announced. Critics say that only about 15 such lines are currently available to researchers, far too few, in their opinion, to allow the field to advance quickly. It seems reasonable for Mr. Bush to expand his policy, as the House members want, to let federally financed scientists work on stem cell lines derived from some of the hundreds of thousands of excess embryos that are now held at fertility clinics and are likely to be discarded unless they are donated for this potentially valuable research.