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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Reagan lobbies for stem cell research
Nancy Reagan with her husband, former US President Ronald Reagan
Mrs Reagan says research could help cure Alzheimer's
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan has been privately lobbying in favour of federal financing for embryonic stem cell research, according to US news reports.

Mrs Reagan is said to believe that the research could lead to a cure for Alzheimer's disease, which has afflicted her husband, former US President Ronald Reagan.

US President George W Bush
President Bush believes his decision struck the right balance
But the New York Times newspaper quoted a friend of Mrs Reagan as saying that she felt President George W Bush's controversial decision to restrict funding for the research was hampering efforts to cure Alzheimer's and other conditions.

The paper said she had been privately discussing the issue with members of the US Congress.

It said she had also written to the president and met several prominent members of the White House, including Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

She has also raised the issue across party lines, speaking with prominent Democrat supporters such as actor Warren Beatty.

"A lot of time is being wasted," she told a friend, whom she permitted to pass her words on to the newspaper.

"A lot of people who could be helped are not being helped."

'Triple threat'

Mrs Reagan's comments could prove an embarrassment to the Bush administration, given the prominent position and popularity she enjoys in Republican circles.

Actor Christopher Reeve
Actor Christopher Reeve has also criticised President Bush

She said recently in a US television interview that her husband's health and memory had deteriorated to the extent that he no longer recognises her.

"It's lonely, because... there's nothing that anybody can do for you," she told the CBS channel.

Republican Senator Arlen Specter told the paper that Mrs Reagan had been "very helpful" in raising awareness of the issue of stem cell research.

"She's a former first lady, she holds a special position because of her own persuasive personality, and her husband, President Reagan, has Alzheimer's... she's a triple threat."

White House spokesman Adam Levine told the newspaper that while they respected Mrs Reagan's views "the president is confident that the decision he made last year strikes the right balance between moral and ethical responsibility and furthering scientific research."

Political debate

Mrs Reagan is the latest high-profile figure to criticise the Bush administration for its decision to limit funding for stem cell research.

The decision was due in part to pressure from conservative and religious groups which hold considerable sway within the Republican party.

Former Superman actor Christopher Reeve, left severely disabled following a riding accident, last month explicitly blamed the Bush administration for blocking research which he believes could cure his condition.

Supporters believe the research could be valuable in curing or alleviating chronic and degenerative conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries.

But opponents argue that the procedures involved constitute murder and believe that work with adult stem cells, from bone marrow or other tissues, may be equally promising.

The Senate is still considering legislation which could ban such research completely.

See also:

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