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Stem-cell decision not easy, Bush says

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ROME — President Bush said Monday his administration has been "unusually deliberative" in mulling whether to fund embryonic stem-cell research, and that he would take Pope John Paul II's view into consideration as he makes up his mind.

After meeting the pope, who warned Bush of the "evils" of stem-cell research using embryos, the president told reporters he was spending a good deal of time trying to fully understand the issue.

"It is an issue that, on the one hand, deals with so much hope, hope that perhaps through research and development we'll be able to save lives," Bush said during a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"It's also an issue that has got serious moral implications, and our nation must think carefully before we proceed," he said. "And therefore, my process has been, frankly, unusually deliberative for my administration. I'm taking my time."

The decision whether or not to fund the research pits those who believe stem cell research can lead to medical advances in a variety of illnesses against those opposed to any research that destroys human embryos.

Embryonic stem cells are primitive master cells that have the ability to transform themselves into virtually any type of cell in the body. They offer the potential of regenerating damaged organs or tissue.

The Catholic Church condemns stem-cell research using embryos because they are destroyed in the process, but does not oppose other forms of stem-cell research where cells are taken from body tissues and life is not threatened.

In a speech woven around the theme of respect for life, the pope made a clear reference to stem-cell research. He spoke of "evils such as euthanasia, infanticide and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process."

By speaking out specifically against stem-cell research concerning embryos, the pope appeared to leave maneuvering room for Bush.

Stem cells can come from human fetal tissue following an abortion; from human embryos created by in vitro fertilization, whether for reproductive or research purposes; or they can be generated asexually by cloning techniques.

Bush has said the issue was "beyond politics."

"I, frankly, do not care what the political polls say. I do care about the opinions of people, particularly someone as profound as the Holy Father," Bush said. "Of course I'll take that point of view into consideration as I make up my mind on a very difficult issue confronting the United States of America."

"It's the need to balance value and respect for life with the promise of science and the hope of saving life."

Bush said he would continue to listen to differing points of view and make up his mind "when I'm ready to."