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Kerry Decries Stem Cell Limits, Promises Funding

His radio address comes the day before the anniversary of Bush's research restrictions. It's an issue that may be resonating with voters.

August 08, 2004|Lisa Getter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry vowed Saturday that he would lift President Bush's ban on embryonic stem cell research, declaring that "here in America, we don't sacrifice science for ideology."

Continuing with the message he delivered at the Democratic National Convention, Kerry said in a national radio address that "help is on the way" to the 100 million Americans who suffer from illnesses that could one day be "wiped away with stem cell therapy."

His remarks coincided with the eve of the third anniversary of Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, which became an election-year issue after the death of former President Reagan in June.

"At this very moment, some of the most pioneering cures and treatments are right at our fingertips, but because of the stem cell ban, they remain beyond our reach," Kerry said.

Bush restricted the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research on Aug. 9, 2001, in a televised address to the nation. Anti-abortion groups oppose stem cell research because embryos must be destroyed to use the cells.

In announcing his decision, Bush said that limiting research to existing stem cell lines "allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos."

But the president has been facing increasing pressure to loosen the limits on the stem cell pool available for federally funded research.

Bipartisan groups of more than 200 House members and 58 senators and other prominent people, including former First Lady Nancy Reagan, have said that further research could lead to scientific breakthroughs for such illnesses as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, juvenile diabetes and paralysis.

In June, 48 Nobel laureates endorsed Kerry's campaign, saying that the administration had ignored "scientific consensus on critical issues."

The Democrats, and Kerry in particular, have seized on the issue as an example of Bush pushing a conservative ideology at the expense of science.

The Democrats gave Ron Reagan -- the son of the former president -- a prominent role at their convention to speak about the benefits of embryonic stem cell research.

A Newsweek poll after Reagan's speech found that 23% of the people who heard it were more likely to vote for Kerry after listening to it.

The Opinion Research Corp., which conducted a June poll for Results For America, a liberal nonprofit group, found that 73% supported medical research from stem cells extracted from the unused or unwanted frozen embryos stored in fertility clinics.

The poll also found that 64% of conservatives said they were likely to support stem cell research in the wake of Reagan's death.

And a Zogby poll for American Demographics conducted late last month found that one out of five Bush voters would switch to Kerry if he proposed a bold stem cell research program.

"This is not a good issue for the president," said Michael Manganiello, senior vice president with the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and a board member of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, an advocacy group.

He said that when the coalition polled presidential candidates on embryonic stem cell research months ago, Kerry was the first candidate to say he would overturn Bush's policy. Bush never responded.

Still, he said, it wasn't until Reagan's death that most Americans took notice of the issue.

"Having Ron Reagan at the Democratic convention was a pretty big deal," he said. "My sense if that this is one of the issues you vote on."

On Saturday, Kerry continued his whistle-stop campaign tour through rural stretches of Colorado and New Mexico along with his wife, Teresa, running mate John Edwards and their families.

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