Patrick Goodenough | Managing Editor | Thursday, January 11, 2007
The bill is identical to one passed by both chambers last year and subsequently vetoed by Bush, and the White House has indicated that lawmakers can expect a similar response from the president this time. Furthermore, the vote fell short of the two-thirds margin needed to overturn a presidential veto.
The vote came after a debate during which a physician and lawmaker told colleagues embryonic stem cells (ESCs) have never been shown to be effective or safe.
Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) and others opposed to research relying on ESCs noted that stem cells from non-embryonic sources - those obtained from umbilical cords, placentas, nasal passages and elsewhere - were already being used successfully to treat illnesses.
"Seventy to zero" said Dan Lungren (R.-Calif.), referring to the number of conditions already being treated with so-called "adult" stem cells, compared to those being treated with ESCs even after decades of research.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) argued that ESC research "has shown no therapeutic value to date, is highly controversial, and many taxpayers do not wish to have their money spent here."
"Why not invest our limited resources in adult stem cell research that is showing great promise and giving real hope?" he asked. "This is good public policy, this is the right thing to do."
Other lawmakers opposing the bill noted that ESCs are not currently being used on human beings because of health fears. When injected into mice, ESCs have triggered cancerous tumors called teratomas.
The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Michael Castle (R-Del.), will allow federal financing for research using stem cells taken from embryos that have been created during in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, are excess and unwanted.
Because they are earmarked for destruction anyway, ESC research supporters say it is wrong not to use them in the research.
Opponents like Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) argued that the U.S. faced a "slippery slope" and eventually other embryos would be used, including those cloned specifically for the purpose.
"It is not necessary to sacrifice the life of embryos to obtain cells that could become embryonic stem cell lines," said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md). "It is wrong to use federal taxpayer dollars for research which offends the morals and ethics of millions of Americans."
Because stem cells - described as the "building blocks" of skin, muscle, bone and brain - have the potential to differentiate into any type of tissue, scientists believe they hold the potential for treating spinal cord injuries and diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's.
Few would oppose that goal - the source of the cells is where the division generally falls, between those who want only "adult" cells to be used, and those who say only embryonic ones hold the real promise.
Views on the bill cut across party lines, and a number of supporters during Thursday's debate named relatives and friends suffering from a range of diseases and injuries which proponents of the research argue may someday be treated with ESCs.
Lawmakers were urged to "step back and think about a loved one" who may possibly benefit from this research.
"It's a sin not to do this research," declared Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), while Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said that when President Bush blocked identical legislation passed by both chambers last year, he had "vetoed the hope and crushed the hope of millions."
The White House indicated this week that Bush would likely again veto any new legislation. To override the veto, the House would need a two thirds majority.
In 2001, Bush limited federal funding of the research to a small number of then existing ESC lines, thus ensuring the government was not supporting the destruction of any further embryos.
In a report released this week, entitled "Advancing Stem Cell Science without Destroying Human Life," the White House said that policy was "based on the president's firm belief that science and ethics need not be at odds, and that a balance can be struck between the natural desire for rapid scientific progress and the demands of conscience."
The report said the policy had "allowed stem cell research to advance in rapid and promising ways ... without sacrificing the inherent dignity and matchless value of every human life."
Embryonic Stem Cell Cures a Long Way Off, Experts Warn (June 15, 2005)
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