Today Senator Bill Frist broke with the executive branch position to endorse federal funding for new stem cell research lines. This is the first time that the Republican leadership has diverged from a Bush position on a major issue, and it is probably a sign of a Presidency whose powerful grip on Washington is relaxing, and which will continue to relax throughout the rest of Bush's term.
I don't expect Bush's rhetoric to change a single iota in response to anything that the legislature does, but it is obvious that the Republican leadership is no longer a rubber stamp.
Here is a copy of Frist's press release. In it Frist outlines ten 'principles' which he claims have guided him in his decisions with regard to stem cell research. These include banning embryo creation for research, funding for adult stem cell research, informed consent, review, etcetera.
On August 9, 2001, shortly after I outlined my principles (Cong. Rec. 18 July 2001: S7846-S7851), President Bush announced his policy on embryonic stem cell research. His policy was fully consistent with my ten principles, so I strongly supported it. It federally funded embryonic stem cell research for the first time. It did so within an ethical framework. And it showed respect for human life.
But this policy restricted embryonic stem cell funding only to those cell lines that had been derived from embryos before the date of his announcement. In my policy I, too, proposed restricting number of cell lines, but I did not propose a specific cutoff date. Over time, with a limited number of cell lines, would we be able to realize the full promise of embryonic stem cell research?
When the President announced his policy, it was widely believed that 78 embryonic stem cell lines would be available for federal funding. That has proven not to be the case. Today only 22 lines are eligible. Moreover, those lines unexpectedly after several generations are starting to become less stable and less replicative than initially thought (they are acquiring and losing chromosomes, losing the normal karyotype, and potentially losing growth control). They also were grown on mouse feeder cells, which we have learned since, will likely limit their future potential for clinical therapy in humans (e.g., potential of viral contamination).