Kerry Attacks Bush Limits on Stem Cell Research

Sen. John F. Kerry today denounced the Bush administration's limit on federal funding for stem cell research as "morally wrong and economically wrong," while the president took swipes at Kerry's healthcare proposals, denouncing them as "big government" solutions.

Another day of frantic campaigning started with Kerry, wearing a camouflage jacket and bearing a shotgun, taking a brief hunting trip for wild goose in Ohio, an excursion that was mocked by the Bush campaign as a shallow attempt to woo gun rights activists.

Later in the day in a Columbus theater, the Democratic presidential candidate, joined by Dana Reeve, the widow of actor Christopher Reeve, told about 1,200 people that he blamed the White House's "extreme ideological agenda" for blocking scientific advancements that could be achieved through expanded stem cell research.

"More than 100 million Americans today suffer from illness or injury that could, could — I underscore, could — one day be cured or treated with stem cell therapy, research that is supported by our scientists, by Nancy Reagan, by Arnold Schwarzenegger, by Michael J. Fox, by the Reeve family, by people across party lines, without ideology," Kerry said.

"But George Bush is so beholden to the far right ideologues that he has blocked the true promise of stem cell research," Kerry added.

Reeve offered a poignant testimony of support for Kerry, invoking the spirit of her husband, an advocate of stem cell research and a longtime friend of the Massachusetts senator.

"Although our family feels Chris' loss so keenly right now, today is the right moment to transform our grief into hope," she said, adding: "I'm here today because John Kerry, like Christopher Reeve, believes in keeping our hope alive."

The Bush campaign accused Kerry of distorting the president's position, noting that he was the first to allow federal funding of embryonic stem cells.

"John Kerry showed today that as the election nears he is not interested in the facts, and will say or do anything to gain him a political edge, regardless of the truth," Senate Majority Leader William Frist said in a statement released by the campaign.

In a campaign stop in Downingtown, Pa., Bush made an impassioned plea for medical malpractice reform, calling for stringent limits to discourage "junk" lawsuits against doctors and hospitals that he said reduce the quality of life for everyone, especially women.

The president also deplored the practice of defensive medicine by lawsuit-fearing doctors, a practice that Bush said also drives up costs.

"To avoid junk lawsuits, many doctors practice defensive medicine. They order tests and write prescriptions that aren't really necessary — just to protect themselves from lawsuits. That's what happens in a society that has too many lawsuits."

Bush did not mention any of the details of his plan to curb medical malpractice lawsuits, but they are spelled out in his campaign documents. Generally, he would mimic California's decades-old caps on awards to plaintiffs in such lawsuits, especially for noneconomic, or pain and suffering, damages.

During his remarks, Bush repeated his previous criticisms of Kerry's healthcare proposals, saying they would raise costs, require rationing, and drive millions of privately insured Americans into Medicaid, the federal-state government program for indigent Americans.

The Kerry campaign disputed Bush's charges, accusing the president of continuing to misrepresent the senator's healthcare agenda.

"My reforms will be lower costs and give more control and choices to the American people," Bush insisted. "We believe in a system of private medicine.... My reforms address the root causes of rising healthcare costs."

Meanwhile, in northwestern Ohio, Vice President Dick Cheney didn't miss the opportunity to rib Kerry on his morning hunting foray.

Speaking at a rally at a community recreation center in a Toledo suburb, Cheney said, "The senator who gets a grade of F from the National Rifle Assn. went hunting this morning. I understand he bought a new camouflage jacket for the occasion — which did make me wonder how regularly he does go goose hunting.

"My personal opinion is the new camo jacket is an October disguise, an effort he's making to hide the fact that he votes against gun owner rights at every turn," said Cheney, who spent time before the vice presidential debate fishing near his home in Wyoming. "This cover-up isn't going to work. You and I know the 2nd Amendment is more than just a photo opportunity."

Gold reported from Columbus, Chen from Downingtown, Pa. Times staff writers James Gerstenzang and Jesus Sanchez contributed to this report.

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