— President Bush has made what is arguably the most significant decision of his presidency to date: whether or not to fund potentially groundbreaking — but highly controversial — stem-cell research.
The president will announce his decision in a televised address to the nation at 9 ET tonight.
"This is a serious, difficult issue that the president has approached in a deliberate and thoughtful manner," deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters.
"The president has carefully considered all the scientific and ethical issues involved," McClellan added. "He wants to share his decision directly with the American people and why he reached the decision he has reached."
Morality and Medicine
Scientists say biomedical research using stem cells extracted from human embryos could lead to cures for a host of diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's, as well as treatments for debilitating brain and spinal injuries.
But abortion opponents, including leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, say the research is immoral because the embryos from which the cells are derived are destroyed in the process.
The president, himself a staunch opponent of abortion and a deeply religious Methodist, has been wrestling for weeks with what has been an ethical and political dilemma for him.
Bush unequivocally opposed federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research during last year's presidential campaign. But aides to the president had said he was genuinely "conflicted" about the issue since taking office and had been "agonizing" about his decision.
"This is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for our nation 20 to 30 years down the road," McClellan said today.
A President Under Pressure
As the president deliberated, he came under immense pressure from advocates on both sides of the emotionally charged debate.
Anti-abortion groups and conservative members of Congress, including GOP leaders in the House and Senate, have all lobbied the president to ban federal funding. Pope John Paul II personally urged the president to reject embryonic stem-cell research when the two met during Bush's trip to Europe last month.
But moderate GOP members and a surprising number of conservatives Republicans — including Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Bill Frist of Tennessee and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina — who oppose abortion joined with Democrats to urge the president to fund the research, noting that thousands of human embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization treatments are routinely discarded by fertility clinics.
Hollywood celebrities such as Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, Mary Tyler Moore, who has diabetes, and Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, have publicly campaigned in support of the research.
The president met privately in recent weeks with dozens of people to discuss the issue, including lawmakers, leading anti-abortion advocates, representatives of people with various diseases, National Institutes of Health scientists and a group of bioethicists.
"This is an issue that many people, many Americans, find the more they learn about it, the more complex it is," said McClellan. "After consulting with dozens of people … the president, like the American people, realized this is a very complex issue and a complex decision."
McClellan said Bush made his "final decision" on Wednesday.