Laura Bush, the first lady of the US, has defended president Bush's policy on embryonic stem cells (ES cell) in a campaign tour speech. Speaking to the Pennsylvania Medical Society last week, on the third anniversary of Bush's policy decision, she also said that Democratic candidate John Kerry has exaggerated the medical potential of the research.
In August 2001, President Bush announced a national policy limiting federally funded stem cell research to ES cell lines created on or before that date. Since that date, scientists have developed techniques enabling them to grow ES cells without using mouse 'feeder' cells. Scientists believe that these types of ES cell are both medically promising and suitable for use in clinical trials. In addition, although the National Institutes of Health estimated that US scientists would have up to 70 ES cell lines available to them, this figure has more recently been estimated to be closer to 17.
Senator John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, reiterated the claim that Kerry would loosen ES cell restrictions if he is elected president in November. He added that Kerry would quadruple the $25 million funding allocated to federal ES cell researchers last year. Many funds would be directed towards ES cell research on embryos donated from IVF patients, which would otherwise be 'discarded or frozen indefinitely'.
While campaigning in Arizona, Kerry said that 'it is entirely within ethical bounds to do embryonic stem cell research without violating one's beliefs at all about what life is or where it is and what matters'. He added; 'I think you have to measure it also against the lives you save, against the diseases that you're curing'. Laura Bush said such comments were 'overselling' the potential benefits of the research, adding that ES cell science is 'very preliminary' and that 'the implication that cures... are just around the corner is just not right and it's really not fair to people who are watching a loved one suffer'. She said that Bush's policy 'makes it possible for researchers to explore the potential of stem cells while respecting the moral and ethical implications associated'.