Families, Groups Educate Washington On Embryo Adoption

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

(CNSNews.com) - As President Bush wrangles with a decision about whether taxpayers must fund research on embryonic stem cells, two-year-old Hannah Strege and her parents traveled from their home in California to Washington, D.C. this week to show President Bush and Congress that embryos "left over" from in-vitro fertilization can become children instead of research subjects.

"I was listening to C-SPAN [where] Sen. [Tom] Harkin (D-IA) said that my daughter was nothing more than a dot on a piece of paper," said Hannah's mother, Marlene Strege, a 42-year-old occupational therapist, who spoke at a Capital Hill press conference on Monday.

The Streges adopted Hannah as an embryo in 1997 after fertility treatments failed to produce a pregnancy for Marlene.

"I cried," said Strege, recalling her reaction to Harkin's words. "My husband came home and I said, 'Well, our little dot just put Winnie the Pooh in the toilet today.'"

Strege is slated to testify at a congressional hearing on July 17 to explore the ethical and legal issues surrounding the federal funding of research that extracts embryonic stem cells. At press time, the official list of witnesses had not yet been made public.

Though Congress in 1996 passed a law banning federal funding of such research, the Clinton Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) interpreted the ban to mean that federal funding was allowable so long as embryos were obtained using private funds.

After undertaking a review of the Clinton rule, President Bush is now struggling with the thorny ethical question of how his administration will balance the interests of embryonic research foes on one side and groups representing researchers and people with chronic and terminal diseases on the other.

But even Bush's decision, politically risky either way he turns, is unlikely to end the matter. The Christian Legal Society has a pending lawsuit challenging the policy.

Moreover, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a supporter of embryonic stem cell research, has said that he thinks the Senate could muster the necessary 60 votes to overturn a presidential veto of legislation to allow stem cell funding.

It's an issue that pits groups like the Alzheimer's Association, desperately seeking a cure for the disease, against many religious ethicists and pro-life groups.

"Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease," said Danny Chun, spokesperson for the association. "Our basic philosophy is that no particular ... avenue of scientific research that may one day lead to prevention or a cure should be closed. Stem cell is just one aspect of many approaches."

The Alzheimer's Association opposes any ban on federal funding for human stem cell research, "provided that appropriate ethical and oversight guidelines are in place."

"It's a very narrowly focused position," Chun acknowledged, perhaps reflecting the fact that Alzheimer's victims and their families have conflicting viewpoints on the subject.

"It's like it is on the national scene, across the country," said Chun of his group's membership. "People's opinions are divided ... depending on their own personal perspective. They are divided about this issue, no question about it."

According to the association, one in 10 people over age 65 and nearly half of those over 85 have Alzheimer's, a degenerative brain disease that causes a person to forget recent events, familiar tasks and even the identity of loved ones. Today, four million Americans have Alzheimer's disease.

Even so, Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, believes that medical need is not a justification for making taxpayers fund research that destroys human embryos.

"There's a statement lawyers learn in law school that says ...'hard cases make bad law,'" said Connor. "There's no question about the fact that there are many difficult [and] sad cases which cry out for relief [and] help."

He added, "But I would defy Senators [Arlen] Specter (R-Pa.) and Hatch to take these three children [produced through embryo adoption] in their arms and tell us which ones of these children should have been sacrificed on the altar of scientific experimentation in pursuit of what is at best an elusive goal."

"Adult stem cells are a legitimate alternative to research that destroys human embryos, [but] the only way to justify embryo-destructive work is to assert that Hannah" has no value at all, added Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

See Related Stories:

Couples Find An 'Adoption Option' for Leftover Embryos (May 15, 2001)
Clinic Produces Embryos Just for Stem-Cell Research (July 11, 2001)