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Reagan calls for increased stem cell research

Ron Reagan spoke in support of stem cell research.
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Ron Reagan, son of the late president, asks for support for stem cell research.
• Special: The stem cell debate
America Votes 2004
Ron Reagan

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Ron Reagan, son of the late president, called on Americans to "cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research" when they go to the polls in November.

Reagan told the 20,000 people assembled at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday that stem cell research may lead to the "greatest medical breakthrough in our or in any lifetime."

The subject is a highly controversial one.

In 2001, President Bush limited the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research, citing moral and ethical concerns about performing experiments with fertilized human embryos.

Proponents of such research insist those restrictions interfere with efforts to develop new treatments for a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer's, which slowly killed the former president.

"Now, there are those who would stand in the way of this remarkable future," Reagan said, speaking of potential discoveries, "who would deny the federal funding so crucial to basic research.

"A few of these folks, needless to say, are just grinding a political axe and they should be ashamed of themselves."

Reagan told the delegates that the choice in November is more than selecting one ticket over another.

"We can choose between the future and the past," he said, "between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology."

Reagan spoke of a 13-year-old friend who has juvenile diabetes. She has learned to live with her disease, he said. But she faces a bleak future.

What will we tell her? he asked.

"That when given an opportunity to help, we turned away? That facing political opposition, we lost our nerve?"

Reagan painted a picture where he envisioned a Parkinson's disease patient being cured as the result of stem cell research. He described the potential of using a patient's own skin cells and a donor egg to produce neural cells that would be injected into the brain.

He called it a "personal biological repair kit" and labeled it the "future of medicine."

Stem cells typically are taken from days-old human embryos and then grown in a laboratory into lines or colonies. Because the embryos are destroyed when the cells are extracted, the process is opposed by some conservatives who link it to abortion.

Reagan said there was a distinction between an embryo and a fetus. An embryo is not a human being, he said.

Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, supports their use in research.

Reagan reminded the audience that millions of people are afflicted with debilitating diseases.

"Now, we may be able to put an end to this suffering," he said. "We only need to try."

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