Thursday, August 02, 2001

Most Tristate lawmakers oppose stem-cell research

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Stem-cell research, like abortion, is caught in the space between science and faith.

        “It completely devalues human life,” said Patricia Miller, a financial planner in Lebanon. “People just don't realize that if we start with this, it could lead to almost anything.”

        Her friend's father is sick with leukemia, but she doesn't see the potential for new cures worth tampering with or destroying human embryos.

        Jim Sundquist, a postmaster from Little Hocking, Ohio, wants the federal government to pay for the promising research.

        “My son Jimmy was diagnosed with Type I diabetes over five years ago,” he wrote Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio. “And as a parent I am anxious for a cure.”

        President Bush's indecision on stem-cell research has put some public pressure on lawmakers, who soon may have to vote on which direction the government takes.

        As with abortion and human cloning, any question that involves the origins of human life is twisted by politics, morality and the wisdom of medical experimentation.

        The House voted on Tuesday to ban human cloning, including the cloning of human embryos for medical research. A majority rejected arguments from moderates who believe a research ban would stifle experimentation.

        Stem cells are the foundation of human organs and body tissue. Researchers hope to use stem cells as healthy replacement cells in the treatment of patients with neurological diseases, spinal cord damage, diabetes, severe burns and other injuries.

        Most of the stem-cell research has been on embryos from fertility clinics or the fetal tissue from abortions. A federal ban prevents the government from spending money on embryo research, but the Clinton administration ruled that stem cells are not embryos so research on the cells alone should be eligible for federal money.

        President Bush, who opposed stem-cell research as a candidate, is reviewing the Clinton administration's position. His decision would not affect privately financed embryo studies, although several states have restrictions on such research.

        Lawmakers will probably challenge the president no matter which track he chooses. Constituents, many drawn to the issue by the president's deliberations, are just starting to call and write their lawmakers. However, the interest level has not overtaken other issues and likely will not crest until a vote is imminent.

        “It just seems to me that this is the right position to take from a moral point of view and from a medical point of view,” said Mr. Strickland, who favors government-financed embryo research.

Most oppose research

        So far, Mr. Strickland is alone among Tristate lawmakers. They either oppose embryo research for religious or ethical reasons or are as conflicted as Mr. Bush.

        “We really don't know where this research will go,” said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. “I don't know if you can separate your own values or background or thinking from a decision like this.”

        Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said it would be wrong for the president to commit federal money to the research when so many people have moral objections.

        “I would not provide federal money for stem-cell research for the same reason we do not provide money for abortion,” he said.

        Most lawmakers support federal research on adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood, placentas and tissue from fetuses lost to natural causes. Some research suggests adult stem cells and other material also show promise in replicating healthy cells in parts of the body.

        Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, has co-sponsored a bill that would devote $30 million to adult stem-cell research next year.

        “The scientific possibilities are certainly worth studying,” he said. “But I just think it's wrong to create human life and then turn around and destroy it.”

        Rep. Ken Lucas, D-Ky., also said researchers should concentrate on adult stem cells. “I believe we must respect all life,” he said.

        Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he is undecided on federal money for embryo research but concerned about the lack of regulation over private research.

        “I believe the government must take steps to ensure that no human embryos are ever created or cloned for stem-cell research,” he said.

What's next?

        Aides have described President Bush as torn between the promise of new medical discoveries and the ethical dilemma of experimenting with what many people consider human life. Several conservatives who usually side with anti-abortion groups have decided to support stem-cell research on embryos for personal or medical reasons.

        Nancy Reagan has urged the president to back the research because of its potential to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, which has ravaged former President Reagan.

        “I don't understand some of these senators and congressmen,” said Dawn Sundquist, Jim Sundquist's wife. She doesn't see why researchers should not be able to at least experiment on unwanted embryos that fertility clinics might otherwise destroy.

        “I think some of them might have a different perspective if it was their child with diabetes,” she said.

        But Mrs. Miller said the risks are too great: “If we start experimenting with this, who knows what's next?”


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