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WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican House leaders urged the Bush administration Monday to uphold a ban on embryonic stem cell research and block any federal funding of projects that use such cells.

The lawmakers oppose federal support of the research because human embryos are destroyed to extract stem cells — master cells that can be grown into virtually any tissue in the human body.

Scientists say treatments developed through stem cell research have the potential to save millions of lives, and perhaps cure such disorders as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and paralysis from spinal injury.

“The federal government cannot morally look the other way with respect to the destruction of human embryos,” said a statement from House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, Tom DeLay of Texas and J.C. Watts of Oklahoma.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., did not join in Monday’s statement.

President Bush, who is deciding the fate of such federal research, has been pressured by some members of his own party to allow it.

Last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a prominent abortion opponent, wrote the president and asked him to allow the funding to go forward. Republican abortion-rights advocates have also called on Bush to support the research.

The president’s main official on the matter, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, is an abortion foe who supported the research at an institution in Wisconsin, where he was governor.

Armey, DeLay and Watts wrote: “It is not pro-life to rely on an industry of death, even if the intention is to find cures for diseases. We can find cures with life-affirming, not life-destroying, methods that are becoming more promising with each passing day.”

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer has said the president has not yet made up his mind on the issue, which generally pits scientists against abortion opponents. The science community argues that embryonic stem cells have more potential for treatments and cures than do the less-flexible cells taken from adult tissue. Abortion opponents say adult stem cells hold great promise and don’t involve destroying life.

Due to announce a decision this month, the Bush administration is searching for a compromise that would allow the research but satisfy such concerns.

The debate’s origins are complex.

Federal law bans the use of tax dollars on any research that destroys embryos.

But the Clinton administration got around that by ruling that it was OK to use embryonic stem cells in federally funded research as long as private dollars paid for them to be extracted from the embryos.

The government’s National Institutes of Health research centers opened competition for the federal grants. But the two applications received so far sit in limbo while Bush decides whether to allow the Clinton policy to stand or find a way to revise it.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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