Fetal-tissue research ban under fire Garn, Thurmond join opponents

March 31, 1992|By Christopher Scanlan | Christopher Scanlan,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON ...H... — WASHINGTON -- For 17 years, Jake Garn has been one of the Senate's most ardent opponents of abortion. Even so, he will vote this week to lift the federal ban that has blocked researchers from using tissue from aborted fetuses to try to treat some common, incurable diseases.

The reason: Senator Garn's daughter Susan, 32, has diabetes, one of the diseases researchers believe may be helped by fetal-tissue transplants. She is alive today only because her father donated one of his kidneys after the disease damaged hers.

"I am still opposed to abortion, but I am pro-life, and that means pro-lives of adults, too," said Mr. Garn, a Utah Republican.

The Senate debate on lifting the controversial four-year ban on federal funds for fetal-tissue research begins today. Emotions are expected to run high, as opponents charge that ending the research ban would promote abortion and foster a fetus-for-sale market.

But in a surprising turnabout, several of the Senate's staunchest abortion foes say they will vote against the ban. Among them are Mr. Garn and Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Republican, whose daughter, Julie, also has diabetes.

"For the sake of Julie and other individuals who suffer from diabetes, Parkinson's, Huntington's and Alzheimer's diseases, we cannot afford to lose this opportunity to develop a cure," Mr. Thurmond said in a "Dear Colleague" letter earlier this month.

Joan Samuelson, 41, a Santa Rosa, Calif., lawyer with Parkinson's who founded a Parkinson's Action Network to fight the ban, said: "Some of the most influential, articulate abortion foes recognize that this is not an abortion issue. It's a health issue."

Ms. Samuelson and other advocates are confident that they will win in the Senate as they did in July, when the House voted to lift the ban. But President Bush has promised a veto, and the Senate has yet to muster the two-thirds margin needed for an override.

"I'm not aware of any change in the position of the president," said Dr. James Mason, an assistant secretary of health and human services. "The department . . . will recommend that veto, and I've heard nothing from the president other than what he said earlier, that he's prepared to veto this legislation."

Opponents of the ban say the legislation includes safeguards that would prevent fetal tissue from being sold. The bill would also forbid tissue from being transplanted into people named by the donor.

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