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Late President Reagan's Son Speaks Out on Stem Cell Research at Democratic Convention - 2004-07-28

Delegates to the Democratic national convention have heard the son of former Republican President Ronald Reagan strongly endorse the use of what are called stem cells from human embryos, for medical research, a controversial issue in election year politics. Ron Reagan also expressed support for the Democratic Party presidential ticket.

Ron Reagan, the youngest son of one of the most popular U.S. presidents, is registered as a political independent. He has been outspoken on political issues and the conservative background of his father has not constrained him from sometimes criticizing Republicans. A liberal television commentator, he has not let up since the death of former President Reagan in June.

In his highly-anticipated speech to Democrats in Boston, he chose to speak about a complex and emotion-filled subject, embryonic stem cell research, and issued this indirect but strong criticism of the Bush administration approach to the issue.

"There are those who would stand in the way of this remarkable future, who would deny the federal funding so crucial to basic research," he said. "They argue that interfering with the development of even the earliest stage embryo, even one that will never be implanted in a womb and will never develop into an actual fetus, is tantamount to murder. A few of these folks, needless to say, are just grinding a political axe and they should be ashamed of themselves."

Many scientists believe more intensive government-funded research in using embryonic stem cells will lead to the discovery of a range of new lines (types) of cells that can then produce successful treatments for debilitating and often fatal diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's.

After former President Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimer's disease in June, his wife Nancy spoke out strongly about the need for advances in medical research on stem cells.

President Bush decided in 2001 to permit the government to fund research only on studies involving existing stem cell lines, and has faced strong criticism from scientists who believe this will slow development of cures. In another, indirect reference to President Bush, and essentially endorsing Senator John Kerry's run for the presidency, Ron Reagan said the theology of a few should not be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many: "In a few months we will face a choice. Yes, between two candidates and two parties, but more than that," he said. "We have a chance to take a giant stride forward for the good of all humanity. We can choose between the future and the past, between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology." Ron Reagan's speech to Democrats essentially mirrored the party's platform, which calls Bush administration policies wrong-headed and pledges to pursue research under strict ethical guidelines while not, in its words, walking away from the chance to save lives.

Before his remarks to Democrats in Boston, Ron Reagan faced criticism from conservatives, including one prominent U.S. Senator, who said his comments would serve to further politicize the issue of stem cell research.

The speech by the son of one of the Republican Party's most beloved figures is seen as a political coup by the Democrats. But the Republicans will counter with a coup of their own, when they meet in New York in August. Scheduled to speak is Georgia Senator Zell Miller, a conservative Democrat who is supporting the re-election of President Bush.