WASHINGTON (AP) -- As President Bush moves gingerly toward a decision on embryonic stem cell research, his spokesman is pointing to a report about human embryos created solely for research as proof of the complexities the president confronts. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer also said Wednesday that the president, a Methodist opposed to abortion, maintains "a separation between matters of religion and government decisions." But, the spokesman added, "You cannot separate a man's background from his approach." Bush has promised a decision soon on whether federal money can be used for research on stem cells extracted from surplus embryos discarded by fertility clinics, research that fellow abortion opponents deplore but that disease sufferers look to for potential medical breakthroughs. On Wednesday, the morning after Bush privately consulted with a group of bioethicists, the journal Fertility and Sterility revealed that scientists at Eastern Virginia Medical School have created human embryos from donated eggs and sperm for the sole purpose of harvesting embryonic stem cells for research. Fleischer called the report "a perfect illustration of the deep complexities" of the stem cell issue: "The president views this as a reminder that this is not a simple matter, that this is a matter that involves very sensitive and important issues that involve questions that are fundamental about life - about preserving life with science, on the other hand." Since 1996, the government has banned federal funding of research that would harm, damage or destroy human embryos. Bush must now decide whether to maintain or reverse the Clinton administration's policy of allowing federal money to pay for research on stem cells from surplus embryos discarded by fertility clinics--as long as the cells were extracted from embryos by researchers not receiving federal funds. With the president being heavily lobbied from all sides, Fleischer said Wednesday Bush will not be rushed. "The president is very aware that the ramifications of whatever decision he makes will be with mankind for a considerable period of time," Fleischer said. "I don't think the American people expect him to be in any hurry to decide this."
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