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Michael J. Fox makes stem cell plea

Doc Hollywood backs research bill

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Michael J. Fox has thrown his weight behind a campaign to persuade US president Bush to drop his opposition to an embryonic stem cell bill seeking to allow an expanded research programme, Reuters reports.

The bill would quash limits Bush imposed in August 2001 (a stop on any further federal-funded stem cell research outside that on the already-existing stem cell 78 lines) and allow research utilizing 400,000 frozen embryos created for in vitro fertilization treatment, most of which face destruction.

Fox - who suffers from Parkinson's disease - said that Bush "has an opportunity to do something fantastic for the world," and called the proposed legislation a "pro-living bill". Bush has already vowed to veto the bill which was passed in May by the House of Representatives. Bush said at the time: "I've made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life - I'm against that. And therefore if the bill does that, I will veto it."

As we reported back in May, Bush's stance dismayed the bill's bipartisan supporters, who sought to assure its opponents thus: "Under no circumstances does this legislation allow for the creation of embryos for research nor does it fund the destruction of embryos."

That was how Republican Representative Mike Castle of Delaware put it. Castle was - along with Democratic Representative Diane DeGette of Colorado - co-sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives. DeGette chipped in that she was "disappointed at Bush's veto threat against a bill that holds promise for cures to diseases that affect millions of Americans," a sentiment echoed by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada who said: "President Bush has made the wrong choice, putting politics ahead of safe, responsible science."

The bill now faces the Senate, possibly as early as next week. Tennessee Republican Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, has been trying to draft legislation focusing on alternative research methodologies, although scientists earlier this week told a Senate hearing earlier this week that this line of attack was "speculative, and would likely take much longer to yield any therapies or cures for crippling human diseases".

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein described some of the the bill's opponents as "people who want to obfuscate this issue". She added that they were motivated "more by ideological concerns related to abortion".

While the US stem cell controversy rumbles on, Europe is getting down to business. The UK has already made it plain it will proceed with therapeutic stem cell research, and Spain this week announced it would do the same. ®

Related stories

Spain greenlights therapeutic cloning
Britain talks tough on stem cell research
Bush pledges to veto stem cell bill

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