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NIH seeks more stem cell research

John Borden held his twin sons before legislators, asking,
John Borden held his twin sons before legislators, asking, "Which one of my children would you kill?"  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On the heels of a divisive congressional hearing regarding funding for stem cell research, the National Institute of Health on Wednesday released a report calling for more research on both embryonic and adult stem cells.

The report says the research is necessary because "it is impossible to predict which stem cells -- those derived from the embryo, the fetus, or the adult... will best meet the needs of basic research and clinical applications."

The administration had asked for the report as the president faces a tough decision on whether to support using federal money to further research on stems cells derived from human embryos.

At the congressional hearing Tuesday, those on both sides agreed the issue is a matter of life and death, but differed in how they viewed the dilemma.

Proponents of both sides of the stem cell research debate address Congress. CNN's Kate Snow reports (July 17)

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A Senate subcommittee held a hearing on the issue Wednesday.

Opponents depicted such research as an assault of life, believing it will lead to abortions.

Supporters, including many scientists, said the embryonic research will not increase abortions, but will provide scientists with a greater understanding of various diseases and how they can be fought or cured. In other words, they said, such research could save lives.

Speaking at a news conference shortly before a human resources panel of the House Government Reform Committee began its hearing, Shelbie Oppenheimer, who suffers from ALS, commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease, urged the president and Congress to support federal funding of the research.

"Mr. President, you are presented with a choice. Your choice is about different things to different people," she said. "All view points deserving respect, all view points founded in the love of life. In the life I love here, this is what your decision means to me. You have the choice to be pro-life for an un-implanted frozen embryo that will be discarded or pro-life for me. Members of Congress and President Bush, I am asking you to choose me."

But offering a different point of view was John Borden of Fontana, California. He and his wife Lucinda are the parents of twins conceived through invitro fertilization and adopted when they were embryos, and they oppose research involving stem cells from embryos.

Holding the toddlers in his arms, Borden stood up and asked lawmakers, "Which one of my children would you kill?"

Issue divisive for legislators

The issue has divided abortion opponents, putting the president in a difficult political position. Many pro-life lawmakers, such as Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, oppose embryonic research using stem cells.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, spoke in support of stem-cell research at a Washington news conference.  

Other conservative lawmakers, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, support using federal funds for stem-cell research. They say the embryos in question would be discarded, so they should be used for research instead.

"This is a situation where if we don't do what we should here, we will be foregoing the leadership and research throughout the world, to make a difference in the lives of over a hundred million people in this country and millions more world wide," Hatch said at the press conference.

Stem cells -- master cells that can transform themselves into any type of cell in the body -- are believed to offer the potential of regenerating damaged organs or tissues.

Opponent: 'Draw this line here'

Lucinda Borden described embryonic stem-cell research as "destroying and manipulating human life."

Jackie Singer, left, urged lawmakers to back the funding to help her sister Molly, who has juvenile diabetes.
Jackie Singer, left, urged lawmakers to back the funding to help her sister Molly, who has juvenile diabetes.  

"We need to draw this line here and stop and say, 'These embryos cannot be used for research.' Otherwise that will continue on, and it's just a fear of mine that line will be pushed further and further," she said in an interview with CNN.

But Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University, said federal funding for stem-cell research is critical for making advances in fighting degenerative diseases such as ALS, which attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

"We have a lot more to learn before we're going to move the cells from our lab to truly curing patients," he said. "We'll need a large effort to do that, and it won't happen with private funding alone."

• Committee on Government Reform
• National Institutes of Health (NIH)
• Parkinson's Action Network

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