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Stem-cell divisions transcend abortion fight - Reuters via Yahoo!News

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Stem-cell divisions transcend abortion fight

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
Thu Jul 20, 8:17 AM ET

President George W. Bush may have cited his moral stance in vetoing a bill that would have expanded embryonic stem-cell research on Wednesday but the issue transcends traditional divisions over abortion rights.

Strongly conservative Republicans who oppose abortion such as Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (news, bio, voting record) have backed broader federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research for years, and more conservatives have come on board recently, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

The embryos at issue come from fertility clinics, where eggs and sperm are united in lab dishes. But many more are made than can ever be implanted in mothers' wombs, and the leftovers are discarded.

The bill vetoed by Bush would have allowed federal taxpayer money to be used to do research on those embryos donated by the parents. It is not illegal to use private funds to do so, although some conservatives, such as Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback (news, bio, voting record), would also seek to ban this research.

The stem cells are taken from a ball of cells known as a blastocyst, which develops five to seven days after conception. These embryonic stem cells are pluripotent -- meaning they can differentiate into all the types of cells that make up an animal, including a human being, but do not form placenta and cannot become a fetus.

Bush, an opponent of abortion, used his first veto as president to block the bill on Wednesday, saying destroying embryos for medical research "crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect."

Many people who disapprove of abortion say they do not disapprove of experimenting on these embryos, which would otherwise be discarded.

"It's very difficult to justify abandoning 7,000 to 20,000 in vitro eggs as medical waste," Hatch told reporters recently.

MORAL ISSUE

"The president is simply wrong -- it is clear we can expand current policy in an ethical and moral manner that unleashes the potential of embryonic stem-cell research," Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of The Republican Main Street partnership, which styles itself as a centrist Republican movement.

And supporters of embryonic stem-cell research say they are the ones who can claim the moral high ground.

"It is immoral for our families, neighbors and friends to be held hostage to chronic diseases when their treatments are within our scientific grasp," June Walker, president of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, said in a statement.

Other countries have struggled with the issue. Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Canada and New Zealand actively encourage stem-cell research. South Korea tried to move to the fore of embryonic stem-cell research, but faltered when its lead researcher admitted to fabricating data.

Austria, Lithuania and Poland have laws banning research into human embryonic stem-cell research. Germany and Italy have regulations that restrict research in this area.

Harry Moore of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Sheffield in Britain called Bush's stance inconsistent.

"Most embryos produced by a normally fertile women will fail before implantation and not go on to a pregnancy. To call it 'murder' to use embryos donated for research is just emotional blackmail," Moore said in a statement.

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