Ban creation of embryos for research, Pope tells Bush

By Victor L. Simpson / Associated Press

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy -- Pope John Paul II urged President Bush in their first meeting together to bar creation of human embryos for medical research, saying today that America has a moral responsibility to reject actions that "devalue and violate human life."
The 81-year-old pontiff and Bush met behind closed doors at the papal summer residence Castel Gandolfo in the foothills south of Rome.
John Paul, stooped and frail in his chair, afterward read a statement to Bush and his entourage.
The pope lamented:
"Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the world, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils such as euthanasia, infanticide, and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos destined to destruction in the process."
"A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception to natural death," the pope added.
In contrast to the specific objection John Paul raised, embryos involved in the research that Bush is considering are not created for scientific study but are taken from fertility clinic surpluses that would otherwise be discarded.
Bush thanked the pope for reminding Americans that their prosperity "must be matched with compassion and moral purpose."
Before their statements, Bush gave John Paul a book of poetry. They stood together on the balcony of the pope's library, overlooking the clear blue waters of Lake Albano, and Bush commented: "On a hot day it looks like a place one would go swimming."
The pontiff's remarks, which Vatican officials a day earlier had not expected, touched upon Bush's pending decision whether to permit federal funds for potentially breakthrough medical research on stem cells from human embryos.
Scientists believe research using stem cells could unlock the cures for diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, diabetes and spinal cord injuries. However, abortion opponents say harvesting the stem cells requires the death of an embryo, which many regard as human life.
Bush sat ramrod straight in his chair, hands folded in his lap during his meeting with the pope. His entourage included first lady Laura Bush and their daughter Barbara, 19. Though Methodists, like the president, the Bush women both followed old Catholic tradition and covered their hair with black lace mantillas.
The president has promised a decision soon on federal funding for stem cell research, but aides say no announcement is imminent.

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