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Posted 24 Jul 2001   For week ended July 20, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 20Jul01

By Kent Larsen

4 of 5 Mormon Senators Support Stem Cell Research

WASHINGTON, DC -- Two more LDS Senators announced their agreement with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch's support of research using embryonic stem cells. Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Mike Crapo of Idaho joined Hatch and Oregon Republican Gordon Smith in urging US President George W. Bush to allow federally-funded research using the cells, which come from human embryos, usually those that will be discarded after fertility procedures. The announcements leave only Utah Senator Bob Bennett undecided on the issue.

These announcements come about two weeks after Hatch announced his position and sent a memo to Bush outlining his support for the controversial research. The research had previously been outlawed by Congress, subject to Presidential regulation, and the Clinton administration had made plans to support the research. Following the election Bush was widely expected to kill the Clinton administration plans, but support from Hatch and other conservatives, along with lobbying from the scientific and medical communities, recently 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.

Following Hatch's announcement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued its own statement on stem cell research, expressing no opinion, but urging caution, "While the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have not taken a position at this time on the newly emerging field of stem cell research, it merits cautious scrutiny. The proclaimed potential to provide cures or treatments for many serious diseases needs careful and continuing study by conscientious, qualified investigators. As with any emerging new technology, there are concerns that must be addressed. Scientific and religious viewpoints both demand that strict moral and ethical guidelines be followed."

And earlier this week the Church-owned Deseret News then came out in favor of the research, limiting it "within solid ethical boundaries." But Church spokesman Michael Otterson said that the newspaper's position shouldn't be read as a reflection of the Church's position, "The Deseret News isn't the church's official position," Otterson said.

In their statements and arguments about the issue, Hatch, Smith and the other LDS Senators have not only communicated the logic they used, but have gone farther, making a theological argument for the research. On Wednesday, Senator Smith cited Genesis, Chapter 2, Verse 7 in his statements to a panel of the Senate Appropriations Committee on stem-cell research. Smith argues that the creation in Genesis was a two-step process: God formed man from the dust, and then breathed into man's nostrils "the breath of life." He implied that a similar process occurs at conception, saying cells are like the dust of the earth, only given life when placed in the womb.

Hatch, in comments to the New York Times made a similar argument, "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."

The other LDS Senators have made another argument, also outlined by Hatch in his memo, that the potential benefits of stem cell research are extremely important. Senator Reid, also testifying to the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday, said, "Knowing that stem cells could save and improve lives in ways we never before imagined possible, it would be unconscionable to deny our most prominent scientists the use of federal funds for this promising research." This logic was also influential with Senator Smith, who lost his grandmother, an uncle and a cousin (Arizona Democrat Morris K. Udall) to Parkinson's disease, and learned just over a week ago that his brother-in-law has it as well. "I am unwilling to close any scientific door," he told CNN last week.

Senator Crapo's statement on the issue is more cautious, supporting the research as long as it doesn't involve "the purposeful destruction of human embryos solely for the purpose of research." A spokeswoman said the statement means that Crapo is opposed to creating embryos simply for the purpose of stem cell testing.

Surprisingly, only one prominent Mormon was quoted in newspaper accounts opposing stem cell research. Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum said she was "baffled" by the senator's decisions and claimed that religious belief had little to do with the issue, "These people ought to know better than to say it is OK to kill these little unborn embryos. The fact these men are Mormons doesn't have anything to do with it. What's right is right and what's wrong is wrong. It doesn't make any difference what church you belong to."

Other conservatives also criticized the positions taken by LDS Senators, especially Senator Smith's use of the Bible to support his decision. A Catholic church representative called his interpretation of the Bible "amateur theology," and Richard Doerflinger of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops called the connection of the "breath of life" with the womb "absurd." "An embryo's development is directed completely from within--the womb simply provides a nurturing environment." He asked if scientists created an artificial womb, wouldn't a child born from it still be human?


4 of 5 LDS Senators Taking Stand In Support of Stem Cell Research
Salt Lake Tribune 19Jul01 T2
By Jim Woolf: Salt Lake Tribune

Bible Guides Senate on Stem Cell Studies
Los Angeles Times 19Jul01 T2
By Aaron Zitner: Times Staff Writer

GOP senator, a doctor, backs stem cell research
Chicago Tribune 19Jul01 T2
By Becky Waddingham: Washington Bureau


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