In her strongest and clearest statement to date, Nancy Reagan has announced in a letter to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) that she supports cloning for the purposes of medical research, a controversial new field of science involving destruction of days-old embryos.

The former first lady used the 92nd birthday of her husband, Ronald Reagan, yesterday to endorse legislation sponsored by Hatch and others that prohibits cloning for the purpose of creating a person but permits the use of nuclear transfer technology, described by supporters as "therapeutic cloning."

Many scientists believe embryonic stem cells offer the best hope for treating or curing a range of illnesses including spinal injuries, Alzheimer's disease and juvenile diabetes. Some religious activists and abortion opponents say the work is immoral because it involves the destruction of an embryo.

In the letter dated Jan. 29 and made public by Hatch this week, Reagan describes the former president's long struggle with Alzheimer's disease. "Because of this, I am determined to do what I can to save other families from this pain," she wrote.

Until now, she has been low-key in her support of stem cell research and had remained silent on the cloning research legislation that the Bush White House vehemently opposes. The letter provides a boost for supporters of therapeutic cloning who say they plan to use it to lobby wavering lawmakers.

In the one-page note, Reagan hinted at the reason for her bolder stand.

"Orrin, there are so many diseases that can be cured, or at least helped, that we can't turn our back on this," she wrote. "We've lost so much time already. I can't bear to lose any more."

-- Ceci Connolly

Schoolchildren sing "Happy Birthday" at an event celebrating the 92nd birthday of former president Ronald Reagan, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Former first lady Nancy Reagan used the occasion to express her support for cloning for the purposes of medical research.