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Lines Busy, but Hadassah Pushes Stem Cell Case with White House

Hadassah members are trying to get their message on stem cell research to the White House — all at once. Members of the women’s Zionist group swamped White House phone lines Tuesday, petitioning President Bush to reverse his position on stem cell research.

Hadassah says expanding the use of stem cells in medical research could provide new treatments and cures for deadly diseases.

Bush allowed research using existing stem cell lines from 2001, but few of those lines are still viable today. Stem cells are extracted from embryos and can be manipulated to create various human blood and tissue cells. The lines are cell groups extracted from embryos, and are capable of reproducing themselves.

No further lines are available for use under current administration policy.

“What President Bush knew and what scientists knew in 2001 is a lot different from what we know now,” said Marla Gilson, Hadassah’s Washington representative. “I! t’s time to allow new lines to be formed and those lines to be formed with federal funding.”

To make their voices heard, about 1,500 Hadassah members all tried to call the White House at the same time during their conference in Phoenix.

Hadassah President June Walker went first, calling the White House on a speaker-phone as members listened on. She began to make her case to a White House operator before being transferred to a comment line.

Using cell phones, the membership then began to call en masse. Many of them received busy signals or could not complete their calls from the ballroom.

Hadassah sees itself as the premier supporter of stem cell research, fostered by the work of Hadassah hospitals in Israel, which have championed research in that area and which co-own several stem cell lines.

Researchers at Hadassah hospitals recently found that the use of stem cells alleviated Parkinson’s disease in rats.

The group is rolling out a national education! campaign for its members, explaining the religious issues in stem cel l research and suggesting tools to bring the issue to legislators.

The group also is looking get support for stem cell research from states, planning a day in March 2005 in which Hadassah members will march on all 50 state capitals, urging state legislators to pass pro-stem cell legislation.

Jewish groups largely support stem cell research, and they have been working with like-minded organizations to urge its expanded use. Jewish ethicists largely have concluded that Jewish tradition allows embryos to be destroyed if the research has the potential to benefit society.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday that Bush is strongly committed to advancing medical research and combating disease.

“He also believes strongly that while we should explore the promise of stem cell research, we should do so in a way that doesn’t cross a certain moral line,” McClellan said.

One administration official said the White House had contacted Hadassah more than a mon! th ago to offer a representative to speak at their conference but was rebuffed.

Shelley Klein, Hadassah’s director of advocacy, said she believed the phone campaign was a productive way to get the group’s message across.

“There’s nothing more productive than grass-roots efforts,” she said. “As an organization, its important to let President Bush know how many people care about this issue.”

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