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Actor Michael J. Fox urges Senate to support stem cell bill

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Arlen Specter, a cancer patient, is co-sponsor of a Senate bill that would end restrictions on human embryonic stem cell studies.
Arlen Specter, a cancer patient, is co-sponsor of a Senate bill that would end restrictions on human embryonic stem cell studies.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Actor Michael J. Fox is pushing Congress hard to lift President Bush’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

“Embryonic stem cell research holds enormous promise,” said Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, in remarks prepared for a Capitol Hill news conference on Wednesday. “More federal funding and more lines are needed or progress will stall.”

Stem cell research on human embryos holds the most promise in the search for cures for a list of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes and some types of cancer.

The Senate is considering a House-passed bill to lift Bush’s 2001 restrictions on federal funding for such studies, but the measure is facing stiff resistance from conservatives who believe the process is unethical because it destroys embryos.

Fox is one of many celebrities who have for years urged passage of the bill, including former First Lady Nancy Reagan and actress Mary Tyler Moore, who suffers from diabetes.

As she did during debate in the House, Mrs. Reagan has begun calling undecided lawmakers before Senate floor debate, expected next week, said her friend, Hollywood producer Doug Wick.

Dana Reeve, widow of “Superman” star Christopher Reeve, was expected to appear with Fox Wednesday but had to cancel for family reasons. Her husband’s spinal cord injury is one condition for which embryonic stem cell research holds the promise of a cure.
Alternative legislation

On Tuesday, several senators said Bush and his conservative Senate allies are trying to peel votes from the stem cell bill by offering alternative legislation that would instead fund promising but unproven studies.

“I’m all for these alternative sources, (but) not as a substitute, not as some way of stopping what we’re about to do,” said Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Senate sponsor of a bill, passed in the House, that would end Bush’s 2001 ban on federal funding for new human embryonic stem cell studies.

Several scientists testifying Tuesday before the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee agreed that Harkin’s bill, co-sponsored by panel Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, should be passed before even their own research receives federal funding.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Robert Lanza, one of the scientists working on a process by which embryonic stem cells are derived without destroying life. “I do not think we should keep the scientific community or the patient community waiting.”

Another scientist at the table, William B. Hurlbut of Stanford University, said vital science that could someday lead to cures of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s must have the engine of public consensus behind it.

A member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Hurlbut noted that large sections of the public believe human embryonic stem cell research is immoral because it destroys the embryo, which many, including Bush and some congressional conservatives, consider a budding human life.

Government, he said, should set “a coherent moral platform to guide our science.”
August 1 deadline

But staring down a self-imposed August 1 deadline for voting on the legislation, Senate negotiators were still deciding on a list of bills to debate on the Senate floor.

Still swirling were talks over a six-bill package of legislation, including the Harkin-Specter measure, and others that would fund alternative methods or ban certain stem cell and cloning techniques altogether.

Specter, a cancer patient also helming the fight over Supreme Court nominations, said he was growing impatient with the delay and made clear that his bill is the first priority.

“If we can pass the House bill, Specter-Harkin, that is the most important bill to be enacted,” Specter said as he gaveled open the Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee hearing.

Testifying were James Battey, chairman of the National Institutes of Health Stem Cell Task Force, and Lanza, who has done research into deriving stem cells from a single animal cell without destroying the embryo.

The House approved the Harkin-Specter bill, 238-194, on May 24. That is far less than the two-thirds support that would be needed to override a veto Bush has threatened, and it was unclear that either house of Congress had the two-thirds vote necessary to override a veto.

The bill numbers are HR 810 and S 471.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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