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Mixed Reaction to Bush's Stem Cell Decision - 2001-08-11

President Bush's decision to permit federal funding for limited embryonic stem cell research is getting a decidedly mixed response from activists on both sides of the issue.

President Bush says he agonized over the stem cell decision for weeks, trying to strike a delicate balance between those who promote the medical benefits of research and those who oppose it on religious grounds. "Embryonic stem cell research offers both great promise and great peril," he said. "So I have decided we must proceed with great care."

Stem cells are extracted from human embryos that are created and grown in laboratories. The cells can transform themselves into any type of human tissue. Scientists believe the stem cells could produce unlimited supplies of replacement human tissue that could help treat a range of diseases including cancer, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's disease.

Opponents contend that funding stem cell research condones the destruction of human life since the embryos that produce the stem cells are destroyed in the process.

Most, but not all, antiabortion conservatives oppose funding stem cell research. Republican Senator Sam Brownback says he is concerned that the president's decision opens the door to additional research. But he also told NBC television that he is generally satisfied with the president's decision. "As we move down this gauntlet of bio-ethical issues we are going to consider, there are things that we should not do that would really attack human dignity," he said. "So overall, I thought it was a good, thoughtful speech."

But some antiabortion groups condemned the president's decision. Lauren Newell represents a group of young Christians who oppose stem cell research. "I am ashamed of our president who compromises and gives my generation the disposable human life mentality, that human life can be picked apart, abused, and destroyed," she said.

Congressional reaction is also mixed. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who also opposes abortion, praised the decision as decent and honorable. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said he was "heartened" by Mr. Bush's decision. But he also said the Senate still might consider proposals for expanding the research beyond the limits set by the president.

Other Democrats were more critical. House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt described the president's proposal as the "bare minimum."

Some medical researchers are also criticizing the president for not going far enough in his decision on stem cells.

Doctor John Gearhart is a researcher at John Hopkins University in Baltimore who was interviewed on NBC television. "I think one thing is for sure," he said. "The limitations that the president has put on this are going to delay, I believe substantially, the progress that we need to make to bring these types of therapies to the bedside."

Many political analysts are giving the president high marks for trying to strike a balance on the issue. Commentator Georgie Anne Geyer is a guest on this weekend's Issues in the News program on VOA. "I thought that the president laid out a very moderate, central position which is very intelligent and cautious," she said. "The fear is that these embryos will be created for medical research down the line. This is a moral fear. I mean, I don't think we can throw that away at all."

Public opinion polls indicate that most Americans support at least limited research on embryonic stem cells. But at the same time, the president also tried not to alienate religious conservatives since they remain among his most loyal supporters.