Under immense pressure to decide whether to fund embryonic stem-cell research, President Bush said today the controversial issue goes "way beyond politics."
'This Is Way Beyond Politics,' Says Bush
"This is an issue that speaks to morality and science and the just position of both," the president said at a news conference in London, where he began his second European tour in as many months. "Americans deserve a president who will listen to people and to make a serious, thoughtful judgment on this complex issue."
The issue is biomedical research that scientists say could lead to cures for debilitating diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, but that Roman Catholic Church leaders and many anti-abortion rights conservatives say is immoral because it uses cells extracted from human embryos, which are destroyed in the process.
"It doesn't matter who's on what side, as far as I'm concerned," Bush said. "This is way beyond politics."
But as the president nears a decision on federal funding, an emotionally charged debate has raged on Capitol Hill.
"This is not an abstract issue — it's about saving the lives of millions of human beings," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Wednesday as he chaired a hearing on stem-cell research. "It is imperative that the federal government support this research."
"Forcing U.S. taxpayers to subsidize research that relies on deliberate destruction of human embryos for their stem cells is illegal, immoral and unnecessary," countered Richard Doerflinger, an associate director at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Both Sides Enlist Children in Emotional Appeals
With administration officials saying Bush is genuinely "conflicted" and is "agonizing" over his decision, each side has vied for the president's conscience, enlisting children in an effort to put a human face on their cause.
At a news conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, 12-year-old Jackie Singer of Las Vegas pleaded for government funding, saying the research could help her twin sister, Mollie, who suffers from juvenile diabetes.
"I don't want Mollie to go blind, I don't want her to have kidney failure, and I don't want her to have a heart attack or a stroke." Jackie said. "All Mollie wants to do is live a normal, healthy life, and embryonic stem-cell research is our best hope."
A day earlier, as he testified at a House subcommittee hearing, John Borden of Fontana, Calif., stood cradling his 9-and-a-half-month-old twins Mark and Luke, who were adopted as frozen embryos, and asked: "Which one of my children would you kill? Which one would you choose to take?"
Democrats and moderate Republicans who support abortion rights are nearly unanimous in their support for government funding. But the ranks of stem-cell research supporters also include a handful of GOP lawmakers who, like the president, are staunchly opposed to abortion.
Key GOP Lawmaker Signals Support
On Wednesday, that list grew by one as Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the Senate's only physician and a close ally of the White House declared his support for federally funded embryonic stem-cell research.
But White House counselor Karen Hughes said today that Frist's surprise announcement should not be viewed as an indication that the president has made his decision.
"The president will make his own decision," the longtime Bush adviser told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "I don't think people should read anything into anything that anyone else says."
The president had been expected to make his decision as early as last week, but White House aides and Bush himself now say he will take his time as he weighs the issue.
"This is a very serious issue that has got a lot of ramifications," Bush said today. "I want to hear all sides. I want to fully understand the opportunities and to fully think through the dilemmas."
The president has been hearing plenty from those in both camps, having met privately with leading experts on biomedical ethics, anti-abortion rights advocates and representatives of people with various diseases who could be helped by the research. He also has received letters from dozens of members of Congress urging him to approve or cut off funding for the controversial studies.
"Americans deserve a president who will listen to people and to make a serious, thoughtful judgment on this complex issue," the president said. "And that's precisely how I'm going to handle it."