Krauthammer echoed misleading Bush administration claim on stem cells

Syndicated Washington Post columnist and FOX News Channel contributor Charles Krauthammer falsely claimed that “up until this [Bush] administration, there was a ban” on federal funding for stem cell research. “The president, he broke the ban,” Krauthammer said on the August 12 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, adding that “he said that he will support with the federal tax dollars some stem-cell research.” Krauthammer's comments expanded upon First Lady Laura Bush's recent claim that President George W. Bush was the first president ever to fund stem cell research.

The truth is that Bush's stem cell policy replaced a less restrictive set of rules issued by the Clinton administration, though those rules had yet to take effect. On August 10, 2001, the day after Bush's nationally-televised speech announcing his new stem cell policy, The Washington Post explained that “the new policy will replace guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health a year ago under the Clinton administration that would have allowed the first federal subsidies of human embryo cell research.” More broadly, the “ban” that Krauthammer referred to did not target stem cell research specifically. Rather, in each year since 1996, Congress has passed a general ban on research in which human embryos are damaged or destroyed. But scientists realized the potential of stem cell research only in the late 1990s; Clinton's 2000 guidelines were a response to this newly-emerging field of research, as The Washington Post explained on August 24, 2000.

Krauthammer also blasted “Democrats” for “arguing that anybody who draws any line whatsoever, who doesn't give a blank check to all kinds of stem-cell research, including cloning research, is against the science or a prisoner of primitive religion.” But, in fact, the Kerry campaign has offered a stem cell proposal that includes significant restrictions on federally-funded research, as Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly pointed out during the panel with Krauthammer. In an August 9, 2004 speech, Senator John Kerry's running mate, Senator John Edwards, gave a speech laying out a detailed stem cell proposal in which he pledged to “put in place strict ethical standards for those conducting stem cell research,” according to a campaign press release. An August 10 Washington Post article on Edwards's speech noted that the stem cell proposal “closely resembles the framework that the Clinton administration devised in its final two years but never put into effect” and summarized several of the ethical restrictions:

Scientists would be able to use federal funds to isolate and study stem cells from fertility clinic embryos no longer wanted by parents -- embryos, Edwards said, “that would otherwise be discarded or frozen indefinitely.” Consent would be required of the parents. And proposed experiments would have to pass muster with an ethics committee at the academic or research institution where the work would be done.

Finally, Krauthammer singled out Alzheimer's disease as the topic for particularly harsh -- and false -- criticism of Democrats: “Stem cells are absolutely irrelevant to any Alzheimer's research. And the implication by Kerry and others that somehow a cure is on the way, as a result of stem cells, is the worst demagoguery. It's a cruel demagoguery because it holds out hope to people in an area, which is absolutely irrelevant.” But while a Media Matters for America search turned up no instances of Kerry claiming that “a cure is on the way” for Alzheimer's, a group of 80 Nobel laureates did mention Alzehimer's among a litany of diseases for which stem cell has the potential to yield treatments in an open letter to President George W. Bush in 2001 urging him not to place undue restrictions of federal funding of funding of stem cell research.