WASHINGTON (ABP) — On the third anniversary of a controversial decision by President Bush limiting embryonic stem-cell research, both parties' presidential campaigns focused on the morally contentious topic.
In Aug. 9 campaign appearances, Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards and first lady Laura Bush offered arguments for and against the practice.
Edwards, a senator from North Carolina, told reporters his running mate, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, would ease restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research if elected. In a conference call from Chicago, Edwards called the Aug. 9 date “a sad anniversary.”
The Kerry-Edwards campaign also issued a statement calling Bush's stem-cell policy an “ideologically driven ban.”
Meanwhile, Laura Bush told the Pennsylvania Medical Society, “I hope that stem-cell research will yield cures,” according to the Washington Post. But, she added, “We don't even know that stem-cell research will provide cures for anything, much less that it's very close.”
President Bush announced Aug. 9, 2001 — in the first prime-time television address of his presidency — that he would limit federal funding for stem-cell research to $100 million and limit the scope of that federal research to “lines” of embryos that already existed in laboratories.
The cells, harvested from five-day-old embryos, have the potential to grow into many different kinds of tissue. Scientists hope that continued study on the cells will enable the creation of replacement tissues that can be used to treat or even cure many debilitating and terminal conditions, such as Parkinson's disease or spinal-cord injuries.
Anti-abortion activists oppose embryonic stem-cell research because, under current procedures, harvesting the cells destroys the embryos. But polls show that a majority of Americans — as high as 70 percent in some surveys — approves of the research.
Kerry's campaign has been focusing on the topic for several days. Delivering the weekly Democratic radio address Aug. 7, Kerry said, “We must look to the future not with fear, but with the hope and the faith that advances in science will advance our highest ideals.… We're going to lift the ban on stem-cell research. We're going to listen to our scientists and stand up for science. We're going to say yes to knowledge, yes to discovery, and yes to a new era of hope for all Americans.”
Kerry said he opposes creating embryos for the purpose of research.
Edwards endorsed a set of ethical guidelines governing the research that is essentially identical to a set of standards for stem-cell research that Clinton administration officials had devised but never put into effect. Among those standards were the requirement that the embryos studied would be unwanted extras from fertility treatments that would have been destroyed or remained permanently frozen anyway.
Asked about the subject during his Aug. 9 briefing with reporters, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, “The president does not believe we should be creating life for the sole purpose of destroying it.” McClellan also said there had been “a lot of misreporting about this issue” in the press, because Bush's announced policy was not a ban on research. “The United States has no limits on private stem-cell research,” he told reporters.
The Bush administration has provided much more generous funding to research on stem cells harvested from adult sources, which also shows promise for treating some previously terminal or debilitating conditions. However, many scientists and activists believe the embryonic cells show better potential for treating certain conditions.
But, when asked how the president would react to criticism that ideological considerations shouldn't trump scientific progress, McClellan said, “You go down a dangerous, slippery slope when you try to divorce ethics from science.”