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Inside Politics

Frist knocks Edwards over stem cell comment

Edwards invokes legacy of Christopher Reeve


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Sen. John Edwards campaigns Tuesday.
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Bill Frist

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist attacked Sen. John Edwards on Tuesday over a comment the Democratic vice presidential candidate made regarding actor Christopher Reeve.

Edwards said Reeve, who died Sunday, "was a powerful voice for the need to do stem cell research and change the lives of people like him.

"If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again," Edwards said.

Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, called Edwards' remark "crass" and "shameful," and said it gave false hope that new treatments were imminent.

Edwards campaign spokesman Mark Kornblau hit back, "Yes, breakthrough research often takes time, but that's never been a reason to not even try -- until George Bush."

Edwards made the comment Monday while he was stumping in Newton, Iowa.

Frist, who was a heart surgeon before coming to the Senate, responded Tuesday in a conference call with reporters arranged by the Bush-Cheney campaign.

"I find it opportunistic to use the death of someone like Christopher Reeve -- I think it is shameful -- in order to mislead the American people," Frist said. "We should be offering people hope, but neither physicians, scientists, public servants or trial lawyers like John Edwards should be offering hype.

"It is cruel to people who have disabilities and chronic diseases, and, on top of that, it's dishonest. It's giving false hope to people, and I can tell you as a physician who's treated scores of thousands of patients that you don't give them false hope."

Kornblau, Edwards' spokesman, said, "What's crass is George Bush standing in the way of promising stem cell research."

Edwards and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry have been critical of President Bush's decision to limit federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The candidates charge the federal limitation is hindering scientific progress on therapies that could offer hope to people suffering from maladies such as Parkinson's disease, juvenile diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

Reeve, who was left paralyzed after a horseback-riding accident nine years ago, was an advocate for increased funding for new treatments for spinal cord injuries and stem cell research.

Kerry mentioned Reeve by name in Friday's presidential debate while criticizing Bush's stem cell policy.

Three years ago, citing moral and ethical considerations in destroying human embryos to extract stem cells, Bush limited federal research funding to embryonic stem cell lines already in existence.

Research using stem cells extracted from adult cells was not affected by the policy, nor was privately funded research using new embryonic stem cell lines.

The president and his supporters note that his administration is the first to offer any federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, accusing Democrats of trying to create the impression that Bush has banned the practice.

Criticizing Edwards' comment linking the lifting of Bush's policy to medical breakthroughs, Frist said research related to spinal cord injuries does not involve embryonic stem cells but rather adult stem cells, "where the president has absolutely no restrictions, no limitations and there are about 140 treatments."

Embryonic stem cells are believed to be able to develop into more kinds of cells than adult stem cells, and thus more useful in potentially treating diseases. Yet some research indicates that might not be the case, and the National Institutes of Health has called for further study of both adult and embryonic stem cells.

"Stem cell research is promising," Frist said. "The president vigorously promotes adult and embryonic stem cell research, but he does it with an ethical and moral framework."


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