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Posted 24 Jul 2001   For week ended July 06, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 06Jul01

By Kent Larsen

Hatch Favors Stem Cell Funding, Draws Pro-Life Ire

WASHINGTON, DC -- In a move that surprised many and shocked Pro-life advocates, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch sent a memo to President George W. Bush outlining his support for stem cell research. Although many in the pro-life movement have fought research using the cells, which are obtained from embryos, Hatch (R-UT) is part of a group of at least 5 other Republican Senators, including fellow LDS Church member Gordon Smith (R-OR), and 30 House Republicans who favor the research.

Hatch's 12-page memo was released to the media Monday, causing a storm of protest from some anti-abortion forces, who fear that research on the cells, harvested from fertilized embryos abandoned following in-vitro fertilization procedures, will lead to increased abortions. The Christian Coalition immediately sent an e-mail alert to supporters nationwide criticizing Hatch, who has been an ardent abortion foe, and urging them to call the White House and their legislators on the issue. Hatch also drew fire, predictably, from Gayle Ruzicka, head of the very conservative Utah Eagle Forum and also an LDS Church member. "I'm astounded, absolutely astounded," Ruzicka told the Deseret News. "I have always been defender of Orrin Hatch on the life issue. And now he has betrayed us all."

The memo outlined Hatch's anti-abortion credentials, and then went on to outline his logic for supporting stem cell research. Hatch draws a distinction between an egg fertilized in the womb, where it is presumably viable, and an egg fertilized in a lab, "To me a frozen embryo is more akin to a frozen unfertilized egg or frozen sperm than to a fetus naturally developing in the body of a mother," Hatch wrote in the memo. "In the case of in vitro fertilization, extraordinary human action is required to initiate a successful pregnancy while in the case of an elective abortion an intentional human act is required to terminate pregnancy. These are polar opposites." He added that he cannot "imagine Congress or the courts somehow attempting to order every spare' embryo (from fertility labs) through a full-term pregnancy," saying that instead of being discarded, these embryos should be used to further life.

It is also clear from Hatch's comments on the issue that the potential value of stem cells, which might provide treatments for such diverse conditions as diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, weighed heavily in his decision, "Stem cell research facilitates life. Abortion destroys life; this is about saving lives." In interviews last week, Hatch argued strongly for allowing the research, "The most pro-life position would be to help people who suffer from these maladies," Hatch was quoted as saying in the Washington Post, "That is far more ethical than just abandoning or discarding these embryonic stem cells."

In comments printed in the New York Times, Hatch said he came to his decision through careful study and prayer, "I have searched my conscience. I just cannot equate a child living in the womb, with moving toes and fingers and a beating heart, with an embryo in a freezer."

But the position has been roundly attacked by some pro-life forces. Ruzicka told the Deseret News, "When sperm and an egg meet, you have life. When you have a beginning of life, whether in a dish and they freeze it, or in the uterus, it's still life. . . . Experimenting on human beings is wrong." Ruzicka said that pro-life leaders from around the country have called her to ask why Hatch is taking the stance. "We're all shocked and extremely upset. . . . No one can take that stance and consider themselves pro-life," she said. Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, said, "It is unconscionable for Sen. Orrin Hatch and other lawmakers who claim to be pro-life to sanction the direct killing of embryonic persons."

But regardless of the logic Hatch and other conservative lawmakers use, the implications of their support for stem cell research has already been important. President Bush was widely expected to kill plans developed during the Clinton administration to support the research, but support from Hatch and other conservatives, along with lobbying from the scientific and medical communities, has led Bush to look at the issue more carefully. In addition, the high profile that the stem cell research issue has received made it difficult for Bush to make a decision quietly and without controversy. Instead, a Bush strategist told the Washington Post, "We are spending a great deal of time studying not only the science, but the ethical dimensions of this."

The issue of stem cell research was academic until just three years ago, when Dr. James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin showed that the cells could be isolated. The Clinton administration had issued a compromise regulation that allowed the research, but only using cells extracted by others from embryos that were being discarded. Payment for the cells is prohibited. Bush banned the use of stem cells in the first few days of his administration, and is now looking at reversing his position.

Meanwhile, analysts say that the issue is splitting the anti-abortion foes, and forcing many to reconsider their definition of the beginning of life. Dr. Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center, a bioethics institute, told the New York Times, "What we are finding is that it is not such a clear and bright line, even within the pro-life camp, because so many people are in that muddled middle, with complex views about what is the moral status of an embryo. The prospect of embryonic stem cells eventually leading to important new therapies is tipping the balance for a lot of people who think that embryos are not just bits of meaningless tissue."

For Mormons the issue isn't clear either. With Hatch and Senator Smith favoring stem cell research and Ruzicka opposing it unconditionally, it is likely that there are many Mormons on both sides of the issue. LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills told the Deseret News that the Church was "reviewing the issue" and hasn't yet adopted a formal position. If the Church takes a position on stem cell research, many Church members would re-evaluate their positions.


Morality and Medicine: Reconsidering Embryo Research
New York Times 1Jul01 T2
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg: The New York Times

Politicians grapple with stem-cell issue
Seattle WA Times (New York Times) 1Jul01 T2
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg: The New York Times

Hatch peeves pro-lifers
Deseret News 2Jul01 T2
By Lee Davidson: Deseret News Washington correspondent
Ruzicka, others flay his support of stem-cell science

Conservative Pressure for Stem Cell Funds Builds
Washington Post pgA01 2Jul01 T2
By Ceci Connolly: Washington Post Staff Writer
Key Antiabortionists Join Push for Embryo Research

Many pro-lifers howling over Hatch's stem-cell stance
Deseret News 3Jul01 T2
By Lee Davidson: Deseret News Washington correspondent

Plea for funding of stem-cell research
Dublin Ireland Irish Times 4Jul01 T2
By Patrick Smyth


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