FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, July 29, 2005

[BREAKING NEWS] Sen. Frist Breaks with Bush on Stem Cell Research

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has announced his support for legistation expanding funding for embryonic stem cell research -- putting him at odds with President Bush and religious conservatives who oppose such funding.

Frist, a heart-lung surgeon, said of his decision, "It's not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science." So far, the Bush administration has had little comment beyond respecting the right of Frist to take his own position on the issue. "I know that the president will listen to what Sen. Frist has had to say," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who is sponsoring stem cell legislation and who is currently battling cancer. "I'm not saying he is going to agree with it but ... I think may bring us all together on this issue."

Predictably, Frist's position has sparked cheers from stem cell research advocates and outrage from pro-life conservatives. A more pertinent question, however, is whether this will help research funding to pass through Congress. If so, it will set Capitol Hill up for a major confrontation with the White House.

Taking a more long-term view, Frist's announcement might signal a sea change among politicians on the topic, emboldening liberal and conservative politicians alike to support stem cell research. Some have predicted that Frist's political future may have been sacrificed by his stand... and he may well have suffered permanent damage among pro-life voters. But it may have been a calculated risk, betting that the majority of voters support embryonic stem cell research.

In the near term, though, there's no sign of a stampede among Frist's conservative colleagues toward supporting embryonic stem cell research. Said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), "Senator Frist is a good man, he's simply advocating a bad policy."

Hopefully, Frist's position will mark a step toward de-politicizing science, which can only help the US in the long term as it seeks to compete globally in science, technology and medicine.

UPDATE: At the risk of sounding cynical, Sen. Frist's change of heart on the matter might have something to do with popular support for stem cell research. According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans favor embryonic stem cell research by a 2-to-1 margin, with such support apparently growing within every demographic group except for evangelical Christians.

Source: AP (Excite)