Update: Virginia Lab Creates Human Embryos

July 12, 2001; Norfolk, VA (AP) -- The debate over the ethics of stem-cell research intensified Wednesday with word that Virginia scientists have created human embryos in the lab solely for their valuable cells. Medical ethicists say the development complicates the issue at a time when President Bush is weighing whether Federal money should be used for research on embryonic stem cells.

Patient groups favor such research because of its breakthrough potential in treating diseases, while anti-abortion groups and others call such work unethical because it entails destroying the embryos. "The timing of this has been somewhere between disastrous and horrific," said Prof. Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Bush Struggles with Stem Cell Issue
Sandra Sobieraj,
Associated Press Writer

July 12, 2001; Washington, D.C. (AP) -- As President Bush moved gingerly toward a decision on embryonic stem cell research, he was described Wednesday as conflicted and reading all he could on the issue -- including a report this week about human embryos created solely for research. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said that the President, a Methodist opposed to abortion, maintains "a separation between matters of religion and government decisions." But, Fleischer added, "You cannot separate a man's background from his approach." A Senior Adviser, who has recently discussed the issue with Bush, described him as " very conflicted." "Bush was reading extensively about the ethical, scientific and moral questions surrounding embryonic cell research," said the Adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss), was the latest to be consulted. After a Wednesday afternoon meeting in the Oval Office, Lott reported that he and the president spoke briefly about stem cells, "talking through the various considerations, wanting to make sure ... the right thing is done." Lott spoke of the research's "tremendous potential." Yet, when asked about Federal funds for such research, he told reporters: "I'm opposed to that for embryonic research."

Bush has promised a decision soon on whether Federal money can be used for research on stem cells extracted from surplus embryos discarded by fertility clinics, research that fellow abortion opponents deplore but that disease sufferers look to for potential medical breakthroughs.

On Wednesday, the morning after Bush privately consulted with a group of bioethicists, the journal Fertility and Sterility revealed that scientists at Eastern Virginia Medical School have created human embryos from donated eggs and sperm for the sole purpose of harvesting embryonic stem cells for research.

Fleischer called the report "a perfect illustration of the deep complexities" of the stem cell issue: "The President views this as a reminder that this is not a simple matter, that this is a matter that involves very sensitive and important issues that involve questions that are fundamental about life -- about preserving life with science, on the other hand."

Since 1996, the government has banned Federal funding of research that would harm, damage or destroy human embryos. Bush must now decide whether to maintain or reverse the Clinton Administration's policy of allowing federal money to pay for research on stem cells from surplus embryos discarded by fertility clinics -- as long as the cells were extracted from embryos by researchers not receiving Federal funds. With the President being heavily lobbied from all sides, Fleischer said Wednesday Bush will not be rushed. "The president is very aware that the ramifications of whatever decision he makes will be with mankind for a considerable period of time," Fleischer said. "I don't think the American people expect him to be in any hurry to decide this."

Amid speculation that research proponents will try to pre-empt Bush with an affirmative vote in the Congress, Lott assured the President that, as far as the Senate calendar is concerned, the decision will remain in his hands until at least September.