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Monday, 23 July, 2001, 20:25 GMT 21:25 UK
Bush's dilemma on stem cells
George W Bush and Pope John Paul II
Mr Bush heard the Pope condemn stem cell research
By BBC Washington correspondent Rob Watson

President Bush has said he has still not made a decision on whether the US government should fund stem cell research.

Mr Bush characterised the dilemma as what he called the need to balance value and respect for life with the promise of science and the hope of saving life.

Ken Conner, president of the Family Research Council, holds nine-month-old Mark Borden
The debate has aroused passions in America
He described it as a very difficult issue confronting the United States, and he said he cared about the strong opinions people hold on the issue, particularly someone he described as being as profound as the Pope.

Last month Mr Bush met Pope John Paul II, who unequivocally condemned stem cell research as evil and called on the US to ban the genetic research involving embryos.

Dissent in the ranks

Stem cell research is often described in the US as the most sensitive social policy issue facing the Bush administration, and it is an issue that divides the Bush White House and its core supporters.

Normally a staunchly anti-abortion, pro-life administration, stem-cell research, however, has the backing of many powerful Bush aides and supporters who believe its potential medical benefits far outweigh any ethical concerns.

Such supporters include the Republican senator from Utah Orrin Hatch.

Senator Hatch, usually on the front-line of the battle against abortion here, has written to President Bush voicing support for stem cell research and pointing to its potential benefits to the living.

The pro-camp also includes such high-profile cabinet members as Tommy Thompson, who heads the Department of Health and Human Services.

Strong opponents

Others disagree, for both moral and political reasons.

Some say the destruction of embryos is wrong whatever the circumstances.

But perhaps the most influential opponent is the man with the best access to the President's ear, his adviser, Karl Rove.

Mr Rove, who's the President's chief political strategist, is widely thought to believe that government dollars for the research could be painful at the polls by harming Mr Bush's efforts to woo Catholic voters.

There is no doubt the Pope's opposition to the use of embryos will prove a rallying cry for American opponents of the research.

But his words are equally unlikely to sway those campaigning hard for President Bush to release government funds.

See also:

23 Jul 01 | Europe
Pope warns Bush on stem cells
29 Aug 00 | Europe
Pope condemns human cloning
02 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Stem cells grown from dead bodies
12 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Row over made-to-order stem cells
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