Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., today threw his support behind legislation passed by the House to expand federal financing for human embryonic stem cell research, breaking with President Bush and religious conservatives.
"It's not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science," Frist, (R-Tenn.), said on the Senate floor.
At the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said Frist had given Bush advance notice of his announcement. Bush has threatened to veto legislation for expanded financial support of stem cell research. A bill to finance more stem cell research has passed the House, but has been stalled in the Senate. Frist's support could push it closer to passage and set up a confrontation with Bush.
Frist's decision brought quick praise from leading Democrats, but the Christian Defense Coalition lambasted Frist's change of position. "Senator Frist cannot have it both ways. He cannot be pro-life and pro-embryonic stem cell funding," said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, the organization's director. "Nor can he turn around and expect widespread endorsement from the pro-life community if he should decide to run for president in 2008."
A heart-lung transplant surgeon who opposes abortion, Frist said loosening Bush's strict limitations on stem cell research would lead to scientific advances and "bridge the moral and ethical differences" that have made the issue politically charged.
"While human embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage, the limitation put into place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases," the Tennessee lawmaker said in his speech. "Therefore, I believe the president's policy should be modified. We should expand federal funding . . . and current guidelines governing stem cell research, carefully and thoughtfully, staying within ethical bounds," he said.