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Sen. Frist backs embryonic stem cell research

By Dana Bash
CNN Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican Sen. Bill Frist, a top Bush administration ally and the only physician in the Senate, announced Wednesday his support for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Frist's position is based on a set of conditions he detailed at a Senate hearing and in a Wednesday speech on the Senate floor.

Frist, a heart surgeon from Tennessee, is often touted by the GOP as his party's expert on medical issues. His decision on whether to advocate federal funding for research using cells taken from human embryos has been widely anticipated as President Bush weighs whether to block federal funding for the controversial stem cell studies.

A senior aide to Frist outlined 10 conditions on which his support is based:

-- A ban on the creation of embryos for research purposes

-- A continued funding ban on "derivation," meaning federal dollars could be spent to research embryos and stem cells only obtained through private funding

-- A ban on human cloning

-- An increase in government funding for adult stem cell research

-- A restriction on funding for embryonic stem cell research only in the earliest embryonic stage

-- A rigorous "informed consent" rule modeled on those now in place for organ donation, giving donors the right to decide whether to put the embryo up for adoption or to discard the embryo. If the donor chooses to discard the embryo, he or she must approve the embryo's use for research.

-- A limit on the number of stem cell "lines" taken from each embryo in order to minimize bio-ethical problems

-- A new public research oversight mechanism that would establish public research guidelines, including a national research registry

-- An ongoing scientific and ethical review by The Institute of Medicine and the creation of an independent presidential advisory panel to review the bio-ethical implications of stem-cell research. The review would also require the secretary of Health and Human Services to report to Congress annually on the status on federal grants for stem cell research.

-- Strengthen and harmonize embryonic research restrictions to mirror fetal tissue research restrictions

Scientists believe stem-cell research could lead to treatment of diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes, but many abortion opponents have been urging President Bush to block federal funding for the embryonic studies, calling them immoral.

But Frist now joins a group of anti-abortion politicians like Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, who have urged Bush to allow the use of federal dollars for research because of the embryonic cells' potential to fight disease.

Current rules put in place by the Clinton administration allow the use of federal dollars for stem cell research using embryos, provided they would otherwise be discarded and are obtained from clinics using private funds.

A Frist aide said although the senator did not coordinate his announcement with the White House, the Bush administration "had a good idea of where he is on this matter."

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