By Kim Coghill
WASHINGTON ¿ Scientists and officials at the National Institutes of Health are expecting a decision any day now from the White House on the future of government-funded embryonic stem cell research.
While President George Bush reviews the pros and cons of paying for the controversial research, the NIH is in a holding pattern, waiting for word on whether it can release money.
Back in March, the NIH received its first two grant proposals to fund such research, but has failed to publicly state whether the proposals are worthy even if Bush gives the go-ahead.
And although a decision is expected soon, last week during a press briefing, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president is well aware of the powerful research that can come from stem cells and ¿he is cognizant of the fact that life should not be destroyed to save or make another life.¿
Word on Capitol Hill indicates that Bush is looking for a compromise, but some would argue that former President Clinton already found the most logical compromise. The Clinton administration approved guidelines last fall allowing federal money to pay for embryonic stem cell research as long as private money pays for derivation of the stem cells.
Abortion opponents have bent Bush¿s ear, saying that collecting stem cells from embryos is the same as taking a life. Others argue that the embryos in question are being held in fertility clinics and slated for destruction anyway.
Scientists, as well as some on Capitol Hill, fear Bush will limit stem cell research to spontaneous abortions and adult stem cells. Such an action, they say, will shut the door on one of the most promising fields in medical research for developing therapies for Alzheimer¿s, Parkinson¿s, diabetes and other diseases.
Even actress Mary Tyler Moore entered the debate last week, testifying before a Senate subcommittee on the importance of stem cell research in the field of diabetes. In a television interview she said she wondered if anyone has explained to Bush the importance of the research.
In recent weeks, congressmen on either side of the debate have introduced legislation banning or supporting the controversial funding.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) introduced a bill, ¿The Responsible Stem Cell Research Act of 2001,¿ which would preserve existing language in federal law that prohibits taxpayer funding for experimentation that involves embryos.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) has a bill that would allow federal dollars to pay for the actual derivation of embryonic stem cells, and to study the cells. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in April introduced similar legislation.
Public opinion on the controversy depends on who does the polling and how the questions are asked.
According to an ABC poll, 60 percent of people responded ¿yes¿ to the question, ¿Do you support federal funding for stem cell research?¿ Thirty-one percent opposed the funding.
But according to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Americans (70 percent to 24 percent) oppose federal funding of stem cell research that requires destroying human embryos. Asked to choose between funding all stem cell research (adult and embryonic) and funding only adult stem cell research and similar alternatives to see if there is no need to destroy embryos, respondents preferred the latter 67 percent to 18 percent, the bishops said in a press release.