Pope asks Bush to bar funds for embryotic stem cell research Consultation: President says he'll weigh pontiff's view before decision is made. - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Pope asks Bush to bar funds for embryotic stem cell research Consultation: President says he'll weigh pontiff's view before decision is made.

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Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2001 12:00 am

By Ron Fournier

The Associated Press

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy Pope John Paul II urged President Bush on Monday to

reject research on human embryos as Bush weighs government funding for the

burgeoning science. Respectful but noncommittal, the president said, Ill

take that point of view into consideration.

Bush said after his first face-to-face meeting with the pontiff that stem cell

research offers the prospect of huge medical advances but is fraught with

serious moral implications.

The frail 81-year-old Roman Catholic leader welcomed Bush to his summer

retreat in the foothills southeast of Rome to add his voice to the debate over

one of the most momentous issues of Bushs young presidency.

The president must soon decide whether to permit federal funds for medical

research on stem cells pulled from human embryos.

A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject

practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception to

natural death, the pope said with Bush sitting at his side.

The pontiff was stooped, his head tilted to one side, as he read from a

script.

Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences

accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the world, John Paul said.

He pointed to euthanasia, infanticide and proposals for the creation for

research purposes of human embryos destined to destruction in the process.

His admonition raised the political stakes for Bush, who aides say is likely

to announce his decision next month.

Allowing the funding could alienate some of Americas 44 million Catholics,

who make up an important political bloc. If Bush cuts or restricts the

funding, he risks being accused of bowing to the pope and other religious and

conservative leaders.

Praising the pontiff as a spiritual and political leader, Bush promised to

take his views into consideration as he tries to balance value and respect

for life with the promise of science, and the hope of saving life.

The popes decision to lobby Bush may have been an unwelcome surprise. White

House officials had said in advance that they didnt think the issue would

come up, and Bush said the pope did not bring it up during the private meeting

before their public remarks.

Embryonic stem cells are the basic building blocks for body tissue. To extract

these cells for research requires killing the embryo an action consistently

rejected by the Catholic Church and other abortion opponents as the taking of

human life.

Bush visited the pope the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo, the summer

residence of popes since the 17th century. He brought along first lady Laura

Bush and their daughter Barbara, 19. The Bush women, both Methodists, followed

an old Catholic tradition and covered their hair with black lace mantillas.

While the pope clearly condemned the future destruction of embryos to draw

stem cells, he did not detail his views about the wide array of avenues for

stem cell research. Bush, for example, is considering potential compromises

involving research on stem cells derived from fertility clinic surpluses that

would otherwise be discarded.

The Vatican seemed to close the door on that, too.

Spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the pope opposes any stem cell research

using embryos. Other sources of stem cells such as umbilical cord blood and

adult stem cells are less controversial and are not condemned by the pope.

Scientists believe research using stem cells might unlock cures for diseases

including Alzheimers, Parkinsons and diabetes, as well as spinal cord

injuries. The pope himself suffers from symptoms of Parkinsons disease.

Bush and John Paul met one-on-one for about 30 minutes, with no translators or

aides.

Later, at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi,

Bush called stem cell research a very difficult issue and said he would not

be rushed to a decision.

Expecting political fallout no matter what Bush does, the White House is

planning a high-profile announcement to explain his decision and shape public

opinion.

Bush also met with the Vaticans top diplomat who asked that the United States

use its influence with China to help establish contacts with the Holy See.

Bush promised to ask Beijing to do so.

Bush ends his weeklong European trip Tuesday with a visit with U.S. troops in

Kosovo.

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