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[IP] Article in WSJ today re: stem cells
Politics & Policy
Stem-Cell Research Stirs Passions
On Both Sides of Political Debate
By LAURIE MCGINLEY
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
WASHINGTON -- When the leaders of the Coalition for the Advancement of
Medical Research began their weekly conference call on June 7, they got bad
For months, the alliance, made up of patients' groups, scientists, medical
schools and the biotech industry, had been pressing the Bush administration
to support federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Now, Chairman
Lawrence Soler was passing on word that President Bush was poised to side
with antiabortion activists and announce a ban on the funding. The group
promptly issued an urgent alert to its grass-roots supporters, who flooded
the White House with so many protest calls that one administration official
asked the coalition to call off the dogs.
As it happened, President Bush didn't make the stem-cell announcement last
month. But a decision is due any day now. And the display of passion by the
alliance's supporters showed how the politics of the stem-cell are changing
Embryonic stem cells are building-block cells that have the ability to
develop into muscle, organ and other types of cells and tissues. Scientists
say they hold promise as replacement cells for patients afflicted with
degenerative illnesses or injury.
GOP House Leaders Urge White House to Uphold Stem-Cell Research Ban (July 3)
Revolt Against Embryonic Research Begins Locally, Spreads Nationally (June
NIH's Move to Cancel Meeting Worries Backers of Embryo Stem-Cell Research
Conventional wisdom once held that President Bush, who campaigned against
the government funding, wouldn't change course and risk the ire of religious
conservatives, who complain that extracting stem cells destroys the embryos
from which they're taken. But in recent weeks, polls have shown strong
public support for the research and dozens of GOP lawmakers, including some
prominent abortion foes, have announced their endorsement. Moreover,
research advocates such as the alliance have warned that a ban would spark
outrage from people who might benefit from the research, and showed that
it's not just the antiabortion side that feels fervently about the issue.
That has sent some administration officials scurrying to find a middle
ground -- perhaps by approving funding for research on already extracted
cells -- on an issue that's about as amenable to compromise as the Middle
"Six months ago, we were just hanging on by a thread," says Michael
Manganillo, vice president for government affairs at the Christopher Reeve
Paralysis Foundation, a member of the coalition. "Now everyone is talking
To be sure, the pro-research forces still face long odds in securing the
federal funding. President Bush ultimately may be loath to turn his back on
his base of antiabortion supporters. And whatever his decision, the battle
will move to Congress, where most of the House GOP leadership has vowed to
fight the funding.
But, after a slow start earlier in the year, the pro-research forces have
picked up surprising momentum. At least part of it is due to the efforts of
Mr. Soler, an earnest and somewhat harried 32-year-old who looks 10 years
The chief lobbyist for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
International, the driving force behind the coalition, Mr. Soler has all the
standard-issue accoutrements of the Washington lobbyist -- dark suit,
cellphone, cluttered desk. But on his belt, he wears a small device that
looks like a pager and provides him with a steady trickle of insulin.
Diagnosed with Type 1, or juvenile diabetes, a decade ago, Mr. Soler for
years injected insulin four times a day. He checked his blood sugar
frequently, even during lobbying calls on Capitol Hill, before getting an
insulin pump two years ago that keeps his blood sugar stable.
Now, he wants a cure, for himself and the other million Americans with
juvenile diabetes. Of all the ailments that may be helped by stem-cell
research, scientists say, juvenile diabetes is at the top of the list. The
outlook is so promising, in fact, that the juvenile-diabetes group funds
embryonic stem-cell research itself.
After last year's election, Mr. Soler decided to form a new group to push
the stem-cell issue. Under President Clinton, the National Institutes of
Health got approval to fund research on stem cells extracted from frozen
embryos left over from fertility treatments. The money was to begin flowing
later this year but has been put on hold while the Bush administration
reconsiders the issue.
Six months ago, Mr. Soler co-founded the coalition with Tim Leshan, who at
time was director of public policy for the American Society for Cell
Biology, a scientific group. (He has since taken a job at NIH and is no
longer involved in the coalition.) The key, they decided, was a campaign
that showcased both scientific expertise and human need.
They signed up groups including the Parkinson's Action Network, the ALS
Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the
Biotechnology Industry Organization. They began having weekly conference
calls to plot strategy. To beef up the coalition's GOP connections, they
hired Vicki Hart, a Republican lobbyist who has long worked for Bob Dole.
Separately, Linda Tarplin, a lobbyist for BIO who once worked for current
White House lobbyist Nick Calio, also pressed the pro-research case.
Stem Cells Controversy: A Way Out?
The Bush administration is under pressure from scientists to permit federal
funding of embryonic stem-cell research, and from anti-abortion groups to
bar it. It's exploring a possible compromise that is drawing criticism from
The basic idea: Fund research on the 10 or so embryonic stem-cell lines
already developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and others.
Rationale: That would allow some research to go forward, but additional
embryos wouldn't be destroyed.
Pro-research groups' beef: The existing supply isn't adequate. Scientists
need many diverse stem-cell lines, with varying characteristics.
Anti-abortion groups' beef: Research on existing cell lines is unethical
because embryos were destroyed. A "slippery slope" would result in
additional research down the road.
Sources: administration officials and lobbyists for and against the research
But the coalition's biggest asset has been its grass-roots firepower,
trained relentlessly on the Bush administration and undecided Republicans in
Congress. In recent months, dozens of doctors, researchers and patients have
written op-ed pieces for newspapers around the country. Some 70,000 faxes
have been sent to members of Congress from research supporters. Patients
with everything from spinal-cord injuries to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,
or ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease, have knocked on congressional
doors, pleading for the funding.
In late June, under Mr. Soler's guidance, 200 children with juvenile
diabetes visited Congress. The ostensible reason was to ask for increased
funding for diabetes research, but the backdrop was the stem-cell debate.
Three-year-old Cody Anderson of West Jordan, Utah, paid a call on Sen. Orrin
Hatch, the Utah Republican who had earlier announced his support of
stem-cell research. Afterward, Sen. Hatch mentioned the boy's visit on
national television while arguing in favor of the embryonic stem-cell
research. Just before the July Fourth break, the coalition leaders urged
their troops to try to call or meet with their member of Congress over the
All this action has frustrated and angered right-to-life opponents, some of
whom remember that the juvenile-diabetes group also pushed hard for
fetal-tissue research, which has been a disappointment. Scott Weinberg, a
spokesman for the American Life League, an antiabortion group, says the
coalition has deliberately played down the importance of recent advances in
research involving stem cells derived from adults. He and other abortion
foes say adult-stem cell research is the ethical alternative and should be
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life
Committee, complains that the research advocates insist on referring to the
product of conception as "fertilized eggs" rather than human embryos.
"That's plainly inaccurate," he says.
Coalition officials defend their use of "fertilized egg," saying it hasn't
yet been implanted in the women's uterus. In addition, they say that both
embryonic and adult stem-cell research should be funded but that they
believe embryonic is more promising.
In any case, opponents of the research are looking for ways to counter the
emotional impact of ailing patients pleading for research money. Rep. Chris
Smith, a New Jersey Republican, and 13 other House members recently wrote to
President Bush to ask him to meet with three young children. Hannah, Luke
and Mark were created through in-vitro fertilization and kept in storage, as
frozen embryos, until they were adopted by infertile couples.
Research opponents hope that the children will drive home the point that in
some cases the frozen embryos at fertility clinics are available for
adoption. "A decision to authorize the federal funding of human embryo
destruction is a decision to deny life" to thousands of children," the
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