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Hatch peeves pro-lifers

Ruzicka, others flay his support of stem-cell science

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WASHINGTON — Pro-life supporters are calling Sen. Orrin Hatch a traitor because the Utah Republican is pushing the Bush administration to allow research on "stem cells" from discarded lab-created embryos.

"I'm astounded, absolutely astounded," said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the pro-life Utah Eagle Forum. "I have always been defender of Orrin Hatch on the life issue. And now he has betrayed us all."

Stem cells obtained from early embryos can develop into specialized cells and tissues of the body, including those for the brain, liver, heart, nerves and blood.

In a 12-page letter to the Bush administration, Hatch urges allowing research on such cells that would be discarded anyway by fertility labs. He quotes several University of Utah doctors to say it could lead to breakthroughs against cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and heart disease.

"I support the use of federal funds to conduct research involving human pluripotent stem cells derived from embryos produced through the in vitro fertilization process," Hatch wrote.

While many pro-life groups insist that life begins at conception and abortion or other methods of terminating development amounts to killing, Hatch wrote

life has never truly begun for the extra embryos not used in the IVF process because they were not implanted in a uterus. He urges they be used in research rather than discarded.

"To me a frozen embryo is more akin to a frozen unfertilized egg or frozen sperm than to a fetus naturally developing in the body of a mother," he wrote.

"In the case of in vitro fertilization, extraordinary human action is required to initiate a successful pregnancy while in the case of an elective abortion an intentional human act is required to terminate pregnancy. These are polar opposites," Hatch wrote.

Ruzicka disagrees. "When sperm and an egg meet, you have life. When you have a beginning of life, whether in a dish and they freeze it, or in the uterus, it's still life. . . . Experimenting on human beings is wrong."

She added that pro-life leaders from around the country have called her to ask why Hatch is taking the stance. "We're all shocked and extremely upset. . . . No one can take that stance and consider themselves pro-life," she said.

Hatch and Ruzicka and other Utah GOP conservatives have crossed swords before. In 1997, Ruzicka and others sponsored a resolution in the Utah Republican Convention condemning the idea of a new federally funded "welfare" program for health care. It, and other resolutions, called on Hatch and other GOP U.S. officeholders to become true Republicans. The resolution passed, and Hatch took to the stage later to chide the conservative GOP state delegates for not wanting to help poor, uninsured children whose parents work. His CHIP initiative later passed Congress and is a popular program, Hatch says, helping buy insurance for tens of thousands of poor, sick children.

In the 2000 state GOP convention Hatch narrowly escaped a primary election by conservative attorney Greg Hawkins, who is now running for state party chairman against a candidate Hatch backs, as a number of conservative delegates again opposed the longtime senator.

Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, said, "It is unconscionable for Sen. Orrin Hatch and other lawmakers who claim to be pro-life to sanction the direct killing of embryonic persons."

Hatch wrote in his letter that he does consider himself pro-life, and carefully outlined pro-life bills he has pushed through the years including banning research on cells from aborted fetuses and a push to ban late-term "partial-birth abortion."

Still, he wrote, he cannot "imagine Congress or the courts somehow attempting to order every spare' embryo (from fertility labs) through a full-term pregnancy" — so he said they should be used in research to possibly greatly enhance life for others.

He wrote that more than an estimated 128 million Americans may benefit from embryonic stem cell research."

Hatch quoted several University of Utah doctors, including Stephen Prescott, medical director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, who said such research "is an incredibly promising area that has potential application in many different fields of medicine. One of these is in the treatment of cancer."

Industrialist and philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr. several months ago told the Deseret News that Republican U.S. senators weren't doing enough to fund or otherwise help cancer research in America.

Hatch urged the administration to convene the National Institutes of Health Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Review Group "to help bring resolution to this matter." He noted that group is to be chaired by Dr. James Kushner of the University of Utah.

Hatch was on vacation Monday and was not immediately available for more detailed comment about his letter.

That letter noted that some other conservatives are also backing his view — including former Sen. (and cancer survivor) Connie Mack, R-Fla., and Sens. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore. Smith, like Hatch, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That church "is reviewing the issues" of stem cell research but has not yet taken a formal position on it, said LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills.


Contributing: Bob Bernick Jr.

E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com