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Frist offense

"Frist offense" Continued...

Issue: "Space: Dawn of Discovery," Aug. 13, 2005

If so, Mr. Frist might have to vie for the limelight with other Republican centrists-such as former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, New York Gov. George Pataki, and Sen. John McCain-without support from the party's conservative base. "He has just guaranteed that the core of the party will be utterly hostile to him for the rest of his career," said Mr. Walker.

Ms. Wright agrees, but qualifies her criticism of the Tennessee Republican. "He's been very good on other things," she said. "We're not blackballing him." Still, she points to an emerging question she says conservatives eventually need to answer. Can someone be pro-life and support embryonic stem-cell research? Mr. Frist and other conservative supporters of the research say their pro-life values lead them to support the study of intact embryos bound for destruction anyway. Ms. Wright disagrees. "When you talk about eternal values, this is a big issue," she said. "There are those that say that the advance of science is paramount over what is moral or right. . . . This stance harms him immeasurably, and I'd say irrevocably."

The bill has enough votes to pass in the Senate, and Republicans are already bracing for its collision with the White House. After Mr. Frist's speech, White House spokesman Scott McClellan reaffirmed Mr. Bush's intent to veto the bill. "The Republican party, I think, is headed for a fissure," Mr. Walker said.

Liberal advocacy groups are banking on it. Pro-research groups spent the summer bombarding Congress with pleas from the sick and dying. One such group, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, supports all embryonic stem-cell research, including research on cells that are the products of human cloning. In June, the foundation's chairwoman, Mary Tyler Moore, led 150 diabetic children in a march on the Capitol. Some participants, poster children ages 2 to 17, weren't old enough to say "embryonic." But they had talking points. "I just want to feel like a normal kid without pricking my finger 2,000 times a year or injecting myself with insulin 11 hundred times a year," 10-year-old Aaron Jones testified to U.S. senators on June 21.

Ignored are proposals by a growing group of scientists, such as Dr. William Hurlbut at Stanford University, who give pro-lifers a way to say yes to both Aaron Jones and unborn children in IVF clinics. Dr. Hurlbut says a scientific technique called altered nuclear transfer could produce stem cells with the same properties as those derived from embryos.

Altered nuclear transfer (ANT) is similar to cloning in that it puts the nucleus of an adult cell into an enucleated human egg, or oocyte. But before the transfer, scientists turn off the genetic switch in the nucleus that directs the egg to become a baby. What results is an unorganized mass of cells, some of which look and behave just like embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Hurlbut told WORLD that ANT "may represent our last best hope of framing an ethical way to go forward with stem-cell research." The President's Council on Bioethics, of which Dr. Hurlbut is a member, presented ANT as one of four feasible alternatives to embryo destruction in a May 10 White Paper. Scientists have continued to come up with improved variations of the proposals in the White Paper even since the council published it.

Mr. Frist's speech undercuts ANT and the hopeful recommendations of the president's bioethics council, despite his claim to support alternatives like ANT. In his floor speech he called it "research worth supporting," noting it was "still preliminary today." For the research community, however, new proposals follow the money, which Mr. Frist would now direct toward research that destroys embryos.

Mr. Specter predicted Mr. Frist's speech would bring both sides of the embryonic stem-cell debate together. But in the days following the speech, the Republican divide only seemed to grow as people on opposing sides of the debate lambasted one another.

Ms. Wright said Mr. Frist has failed to consider the bloc he's aligned himself with-research proponents who take a study-first, ask-questions-later approach. "Their ethical line in the sand gets washed away with every new pressure," Ms. Wright said. "We already know what the proponents of this want: a class of humans they can experiment on."

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