Features

Battle for conservatism's soul

"Battle for conservatism's soul" Continued...

Issue: "Rita: After the storms," Oct. 8, 2005

In contrast to Mr. Frist, Mr. Santorum believes advances can take place without destroying embryos. He plans to introduce legislation to fund research into potential methods of creating "pluripotent stem cells," or adult stems cells that can act like embryonic ones. "In this way, scientists are able to pursue progress without abandoning principle," he said.

Researchers in Mr. Santorum's home state recently announced several scientific leaps toward lifesaving cures that do not require the killing of embryos. A University of Pittsburgh study published last month showed that cells from the placenta share key characteristics with stem cells taken from embryos with the potential to become any cell in the body. Therefore, they could be used to replace damaged cells in previously irreparable organs such as the kidneys, liver, or spinal cord.

Mr. Santorum praised a researcher at the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative who turned stem cells from muscle into blood, nerve, cartilage, and cardiac cells. On Sept. 19, the University of California-Irvine released news that a team of researchers had used adult human neural stem cells to repair the damaged spinal cords of mice.

"Congress should focus its attention and resources on further developing these viable, promising therapies," Mr. Santorum wrote.

Upon returning from summer recess, U.S. senators expected a post-vacation fray over whether to increase federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. But that has taken a backseat to hurricane relief and John Roberts' confirmation hearings. In the eyes of some of Mr. Santorum's fellow Catholic pro-lifers, that's not a bad thing. "At this point, we don't see the pro-life side having any strong majorities" on the stem-cell research issue, said Joseph Meaney, director of international coordination for Human Life International, a Catholic pro-life education group. "There's a need for a very strong public education to go on for people to understand what's at issue."

Mary Beliveau, legislative director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, called Mr. Santorum's position "extremely important" because he is "shedding light on advances being made with adult stem-cell research."

Since the summer, Mr. Santorum's name has popped up on several lists of possible 2008 Republican nominees for president. He insists that he is not interested and is focusing on his already heated campaign for reelection in 2006. But as one of the few strong pro-lifers on a list of moderates-think Rudolph Giuliani, George Pataki, and Bill Frist-the party's conservative base might discover a real interest in him.

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