Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., defended his recent choice to push for the expansion of federal funding for stem cell research a move criticized by some Christian conservatives because embryos are destroyed in the harvesting process.
Frist said Tuesday that he would be for such research on embryos only if they were not initially created for that specific purpose. The senator expressed his views before breakfast patrons at a local restaurant in Blount Country, Tenn.
According to the Tenn.-based Daily Times, among the most vocal was a pro-life nurse who pressed him on the issue. Deb Maupin, 27, asked Frist why he had changed his stance from earlier opposition to the funding. Knoxnews reported that the Tennessee Right to Life member's main concern was the "sanctity of life."
Some scientists claim that embryonic stem cell research holds the promise for future cures for currently incurable diseases such as Parkinsons, diabetes and spinal cord injuries. Yet, many view the process as being destructive of life, arguing that life begins at conceptioin.
In response to Maupin, Frist said he still held pro-life views and had a 100 percent pro-life voting record. However, as a heart surgeon, he explained that he was used to taking living tissue from one person and transplanting it "to give life to someone else," the Daily Times reported.
The senate majority leader explained that while embryonic stem cells can eventually become any cell type that could possibly help repair various ailments, adult stem cells are less useful for such treatments.
Frist stated that when President Bush first approved of funding for existing embryonic stem cells it was thought that there were more stem cells available than there actually were. He said that some of them were contaminated and could not be used, according to KnoxNews.
"The cells Frist supports using for research are only those that prospective parents have determined will not be implanted anyway," Knoxnews stated in its report.
Frist added that the government may need to be involved in the research to make sure that the stem cells are used in an ethical way.
At the time when he announced his stance in the Senate late last month, Frist stated that "I give huge moral significance to the human embryo, it is nascent to human life, what that means is as we advance science, we treat that embryo with dignity, with respect," according to the Associated Press.
Statements by the Christian Defense Coalition, and the Christian Medical Association at the time criticized the move. The former said Frist "could not have it both ways" by claiming to be pro-life while advocating the destroying embryos. The latter said that the research would result in exploitation by turning stem cells into commodities for experimentation.
Legislation for the increased funding is currently pending. President Bush has vowed to veto any proposed additional funding.