Frist: No Stem Cell Debate This Year

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) said Monday it is unlikely the Senate will vote this year to relax Bush administration rules on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (search), despite widespread support in the Senate.

Frist, a heart-lung transplant surgeon, did not express his own views on the topic but said stem cell research was too sensitive a matter to confront so close to the November elections.

"It becomes a very political issue very quickly because it gets into abortion issues and tough issues," Frist, R-Tenn., told a National Press Club audienon't think we could do it justice."

Bush signed an executive order in August 2001 that limited federal help to financing stem cell research on 78 embryonic stem cell lines then in existence. Because day-old embryos are destroyed when stem cells are extracted, some conservatives oppose the process, linking it to abortion (search).

The White House last month rejected calls from Ronald Reagan's (search) family, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and 57 other senators to change Bush's policy.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan supports the research, saying cells from embryos could lead to cures for several illnesses, including the Alzheimer's (search) disease that afflicted her husband.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who signed the Senate letter to Bush, has said supporters have more than the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster and vote for broader stem cell research.

Frist questioned the value of embryonic stem cell research in battling Alzheimer's, although he said it could be helpful in fighting diabetes and other illnesses. "There is a huge disservice going on today in the overpromising of research," Frist said.

He has said a review of the administration's policy on stem cells is in order but has stopped short of saying the rules should be loosened.