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Republican weigh appeal to Bush on stem-cell research

WASHINGTON—From lawmakers to former first lady Nancy Reagan, Republicans who support expanded embryonic stem-cell research are considering making appeals to President Bush to change his mind about vetoing the legislation.

As the Senate began debate Monday, the White House said formally what the president has suggested for months: that Bush would veto the bill because the research involves destroying human embryos.

The House of Representatives already has passed the bill. Final congressional passage is expected Tuesday, but amassing the necessary two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a Bush veto could be impossible. That's why even Republicans confident of Senate victory are weighing a final lobbying push to Bush.

That appears to be a hard sell.

"Whatever one's view of the ethical issues or the state of the research, the future of this field does not require a policy of federal subsidies offensive to the moral principles of millions of Americans," the White House declared in a formal policy statement Monday.

But many Republicans were holding to the hope that a strong majority vote in the Senate might push Bush to reconsider the ethical objections he shares with many other religious conservatives.

"There will be a request from a large delegation of senators, including many of the president's strongest allies on the Republican side, urging him to sign the bill—and I think he may get a personal call from Mrs. Reagan," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. He said he had been in touch with Nancy Reagan, an advocate of embryonic stem-cell research. She couldn't be reached Monday for comment.

Specter, along with Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has been a leading advocate for the legislation. Specter has battled Hodgkin's disease; the late President Reagan died from Alzheimer's.

The legislation would lift prohibitions on federal funds for research on new stem-cell lines that Bush imposed in 2001. It would allow tax dollars to fund research on lines developed from unused embryos that fertility clinics could otherwise destroy.

While the promise of embryonic stem cells is largely theoretical, top scientists believe these young, versatile cells could be trained to repair bodies ravaged by diseases as diverse as Parkinson's and diabetes. Research is moving ahead in other countries and, on a smaller level, through various private- and state-funded efforts. But scientific advocates say progress will be stilted until the National Institutes of Health can oversee expanded stem-cell research.

Opponents, led by Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a physician, are fighting the expanded research because it requires the destruction of embryos. They said there's sufficient promise in research from adult stem cells, although scientists generally say there's more promise in embryonic stem cells.

They also point to the phenomenon of "snowflake" babies, in which unused embryos are adopted, implanted in women and carried to term. They argued that there were enough infertile couples willing to adopt them to make destroying them immoral.

Brownback presented some of those "snowflake" children and their parents at a news conference on Monday, along with others who had benefited from less controversial cord blood and adult stem-cell treatments.

Steve Johnson of Pennsylvania, who was partially paralyzed in a bicycle accident and is the father of a "snowflake" girl, argued emotionally with his family in tow: "Would I kill my daughter so I can walk again? Of course not."

But Specter, on the Senate floor, said that there were about 400,000 unused embryos in the country, while only 138 "snowflake" babies had been born. "If they could be used to create human life, I would not in the slightest way contend they should be used for scientific research," he said.

Other arguments mounted Monday in Senate floor speeches and news conferences included:

_That the number of stem cell lines available under Bush's 2001 limits has withered from 78 to about one-fourth that number. "These lines are being less and less stable," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a physician who opposes abortion rights but supports expanded stem-cell research.

_That Bush's limits will yield a patchwork of state and private research with looser ethical guidelines.

_And that a veto could be viewed through the lens of history as comparable to past arguments that the Earth was flat or that women delivering babies shouldn't have access to anesthesia.

"Rejecting HR 810 is a rejection of science," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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