WASHINGTON – President Bush has condemned stem cell research (search) advances in South Korea and said he worried about living in a world in which human cloning was condoned. He said he would veto any legislation aimed at loosening limits on federal support in the United States.
"I'm very concerned about cloning," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday. "I worry about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable."
"I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is — I'm against that. And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it."
Republicans in Congress are sharply divided over the stem cell issue, which could lead to the first veto of Bush's presidency. The president's comments were aimed at putting the brakes on a bill gaining momentum on Capitol Hill (search).
That bill would lift Bush's ban on using federal dollars to do research on embryonic stem cell lines developed after August 2001. The president's veto threat drew immediate reaction from sponsors of the bipartisan bill, Reps. Mike Castle, R-Del., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
Castle said the legislation would not allow the cloning of embryos or embryo destruction. Instead, it would let government-funded researchers work with stem cells culled from embryos left over from fertility treatments.
"The bottom line is when a couple has decided to discard their excess embryos, they are either going to be discarded as medical waste or they can be donated for research," Castle said.
DeGette protested too. "It's disappointing that the president would threaten to use his first veto on a bill that holds promise for cures to diseases that affect millions of Americans," DeGette said. "Support for expanding federal stem cell research in an ethical manner remains strong in Congress."
Stem cells are building blocks that give rise to every tissue in the body. Supporters of embryo stem cell research, including former first lady Nancy Reagan (search), say it could lead to cures for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other degenerative brain and nerve diseases.
Bush supports research on adult stem cells, but placed a ban on using federal money to do research on the embryonic stem cells created after August 2001. These stem cells are extracted from days-old embryos, which are destroyed in the process. Bush and some religious and conservative groups who believe life begins at conception are offended by the research and don't think tax money should be used to finance it.
House Republicans are throwing their weight behind an alternative bill that encourages stem cell research that uses blood from umbilical cords. Extracting stem cells from cord blood does not require the destruction of an embryo.
White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy said the White House is looking favorably at that bill too, but he stopped short of endorsing the legislation. Researchers, however, point out that stem cells created from the blood of umbilical cords grow into fewer types of tissues and it's unclear whether they will be as flexible in research as the younger, embryonic ones.
In the Senate, Sen. Arlen Specter (search), R-Pa., who is undergoing chemotherapy in his battle against Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph system, is pushing stem cell legislation with Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a conservative Republican, and Dianne Feinstein of California, a moderate Democrat. The three said their bill would make reproductive cloning, to produce a baby, a crime punishable by up to 10 years. But they want to allow for cloning for the purpose of obtaining stem cells to be used in treating disease.
Amid the controversy in Washington, Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University announced on Thursday that he again had successfully cloned human embryos — this time extracting stem cells from embryos created using the DNA of sick and injured patients. It was the second time in a little more than a year that Hwang had successfully cloned.
Other governments see the promise of stem cell research and are poised to take advantage of it, said Dr. Janet Rowley of the University of Chicago, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics and co-author of recent national ethics guidelines for stem-cell research.
"We in the United States, again because of ideology, are sitting back and watching," she said, adding that she hoped the South Korean work would pressure Congress to take a "more responsible position on federal support for the use and investigation of human embryonic stem cell lines."
Bush began Friday at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (search) where he reaffirmation his position on sensitive issues such as abortion and stem cell research. He urged people to "pray that America uses the gift of freedom to build a culture of life." And he recalled the legacy of the late Pope John Paul II, saying "The best way to honor this great champion of human freedom is to continue to build a culture of life where the strong protect the weak."