WASHINGTON —More than 50 ethics scholars have signed a letter asking President Bush to support medical research using cells from human embryos, and more U.S. senators went on record Friday as supporting the research.
"We urge you not to close this door on what might be a critical path to the human future," said the ethicists' letter, signed by scholars from Lutheran, Baptist, Jewish, Catholic and other faiths.
White House aides have said they are worried that Bush would anger Catholic voters, who may be pivotal in the next presidential election, if he supports the research. The ethicists urged Bush "in the strongest possible terms to consider the full range of religious views on this critical topic."
Among those signing the letter were Margaret Farley of Yale University Divinity School, Suzanne Holland of the University of Puget Sound and Laurie Zoloth of San Francisco State University.
The embryo cells, known as stem cells, have the potential to become any other type of cell or tissue in the body, and scientists hope to learn how to fashion them into replacement body parts for patients. But some Catholic leaders and anti-abortion groups oppose the research because human embryos are destroyed to get the cells.
Bush is deciding whether to allow federal funding for the research.
Also Friday, a leading Republican senator said he believes a majority of U.S. senators support allowing federal funding.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and 12 other Republican senators reiterated their support in a new letter to President Bush.
"There is more than a groundswell here. There is really an avalanche of support," Specter said.
Specter, who has written Bush on the issue before, said Friday that he believed 75 senators would vote in favor of stem cell research should Congress take up the issue. That's more than enough to override a presidential veto.
The letter sent Friday by Specter and other Republicans said: "Stem cell research has demonstrated a remarkable capacity of these cells to transform into any type of cell in the human body. If scientists are correct, stem cells could be used to treat and cure a multitude of maladies."
The letter also was signed by Sens. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana, John McCain of Arizona, and John Warner of Virginia.
The issue has created strange bedfellows. The United Methodist Church, known for supporting abortion rights, asked Bush, who is a Methodist, this week to uphold the ban. However, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), an abortion opponent, called for the funding under strict guidelines.
And on Thursday, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) sent Bush a letter signed by 59 Republican and Democratic senators supporting the practice.
Earlier in the week, Republican Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Senate's only physician and a key Bush ally, said he opposed abortion but felt compelled to support research that could save lives. His comments followed a federal health research report that said scientists should be free to pursue all avenues of research, including that involving human embryos. But it did not address the use of federal funds.