ROCHESTER, N.H. — Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean criticized President Bush on Friday for restricting stem-cell research based on religious beliefs, even though he now says his own faith affected his decision to extend legal rights to gay couples.
The difference, Dean said, was that Bush's decision could deprive people of the ability to recover from serious illness, while his was an issue of morality or ethics.
In 2001, Bush limited research that destroyed human embryos. Many Christian organizations and abortion foes opposed the research, while many scientists and medical professionals said it could lead to treatment of disease.
"I think we ought to make scientific decisions, not theological and theoretical decisions," Dean told voters at a town-hall meeting. "I think that what the president did on stem-cell research was based on his religious beliefs, and I think that is wrong."
This week, Dean said his Christian faith contributed to his decision to sign the civil unions bill four years ago when he was governor of Vermont. The bill gave gay couples the same legal rights as married couples without allowing them to wed.
"The hallmark of Christianity is to reach out to people who have been left behind," Dean told reporters Tuesday night. "So there was a religious aspect to my support of civil unions."
Dean told the town-hall meeting Friday that if elected president he would allow stem-cell research. He said he has a nephew with diabetes who could benefit from it.
Bush, in announcing his decision in August 2001, said the use of human embryos had led different people of different faiths to different conclusions. He said he had given the question thought and prayer.