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Frist explains reversal on stem-cells
Aug 19, 2005 12:00 am
August 18, 2005
COOKEVILLE — A middle ground must be struck between ethics and science when it comes to the use of embryonic stem cells for the treatment of chronic illnesses, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Wednesday.
Frist, in the midst of a two-week tour across Tennessee, recently stunned some Republicans when he broke with the Bush White House and encouraged federal support for expanding research into the fledgling science.
During a visit with Cookeville Noon Rotarians on Wednesday, Frist, an accomplished surgeon, likened stem-cell treatments to organ transplants. Embryonic stem cells, he added, offer far more promise than those taken from adults.
"It is a tough issue," Frist said. "It's an issue of ethics and science … When you have science advancing, you have to do it in a moral framework, an ethical framework, or it's liable to spin out of control. Throughout history, we've seen it spin out of control."
Still, he continued, embryonic stem cells provide a number of advantages over adult stem cells.
"Adult stem cells are good," Frist said. "Embryonic stem cells are even more unique … for two reasons. They perpetuate themselves forever. Adult stem cells don't do that. Secondly, embryonic stem cells can become heart or lung tissue or neural tissue, nerve tissue, or pancreas tissue – unbelievable."
While noting he supports pro-life causes, Frist said hundreds of thousands of embryonic stem cells kept in clinics across the country will ultimately be destroyed.
"There are 400,000 embryos today, little cells that are smaller than the tip of a pen," he said. "One-hundred thousand of them are going to be thrown away, literally, in a wastebasket – taken out of a refrigerator and dumped into a wastebasket."
As only "a couple hundred" of the embryos will ultimately be offered for adoption and even fewer are slated to be frozen perpetually or implanted, Frist said the cells, "a day away from the wastebasket," should be used to further treatment options for those who suffer from diseases such as Parkinson's and diabetes.
To do so, he said, would "give hope" to millions of people in the United States and abroad.
Frist noted President George W. Bush displayed "bold vision" as the first leader to open the gates for federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in 2001.
However, Frist said when the policy was established, Bush and scientists believed there would be 78 stem cell lines available for study.
"It ended up being 22. It was thought that those 22 could be used for clinical research for people. They couldn't. We didn't know that at the time," Frist said, explaining the 22 lines had been "contaminated" by mouse cells. " … The policy put in place on Aug. 9, 2001, – a good policy, a bold policy – has fallen short of what was intended."
Wednesday's stop in Cookeville was one of several Frist, who is widely considered a presidential prospect for 2008, has made in Tennessee in recent days.
Elie Teichman, Frist's deputy press secretary, said the Senate majority leader's tour has included a handful of unannounced stops, the most recent of which involved a surprise visit to a diner in Maryville.
But, when asked whether the two-week trek will serve as a springboard for a presidential campaign, Frist was non-committal. His first goal is to "serve Tennesseans" during his remaining 18 months as leader of the U.S. Senate, he said.
"Basically, I will not even think about (a presidential bid) until two years from now," Frist told
The Lebanon Democrat. "Some people say that is too late, but my job is to represent the American people as a United States senator and as Senate majority leader. That's 100 percent where my focus is."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at email@example.com.