Bush Says He Will Veto Embryonic Stem Cell Research Bill
President Bush on Friday vowed to veto a bill (HR 810) that would loosen restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research because the research results in the destruction of human embryos, the Washington Times reports (Sammon, Washington Times, 5/21). The legislation, which could come to a vote this week in the House, would allow researchers to receive federal funding for the study of embryonic stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients. The bill would not allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on stem cell lines or embryos created expressly for research purposes.
The current embryonic stem cell research policy -- which Bush announced on Aug. 9, 2001 -- limits federal funding for the research to stem cell lines created on or before that date. Critics of Bush's policy have said that the embryonic stem cell lines available for federally funded research are not biologically diverse, are contaminated with nonhuman material and are useless for research into possible cures for degenerative diseases (California Healthline, 5/20).
Bush -- who has never vetoed a bill as president -- said he would not hesitate to use the first veto of his presidency to prevent the stem cell research bill from becoming law, which he said would violate his principle that research that "destroys life in order to save life" should not receive federal funding, the Los Angeles Times reports (Curtius/Wallsten, Los Angeles Times, 5/21). Bush added, "I'm a strong supporter of adult stem cell research, of course. But I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life, is -- I'm against that."
If Bush vetoes the legislation, it could prompt a "showdown" between the president and Congress, where the measure has bipartisan support, the New York Times reports (Stolberg, New York Times, 5/21). Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), a primary sponsor of HR 810, in response to Bush's veto threat said in a statement that the bill does not "run afoul" of Bush's principles, adding that the measure "draws a strict ethical line by only allowing federally funded research on stem cell lines that were derived ethically from donated embryos determined to be in excess" (McKinnon, Wall Street Journal, 5/23).
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-sponsor of the measure, also spoke out against Bush's veto threat, saying, "It's disappointing that the president would threaten to use his first veto on a bill that holds promise for cures to diseases that affect millions of Americans," adding, "Support for expanding federal stem cell research in an ethical manner remains strong in Congress" (Riechmann, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/22).
Castle on Friday predicted that the House -- which is expected to vote on the bill as early as Tuesday -- will pass the measure but that the chamber will not have the two-thirds majority required to override a presidential veto, according to the New York Times (New York Times, 5/21). The bill currently has nearly 200 co-sponsors in the House, but it would take 290 votes to override a veto, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Herman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/21). The measure also has a "good chance" of passing in the Senate, according to the Baltimore Sun (Hirschfeld Davis/Kohn, Baltimore Sun, 5/21).
Bush on Friday also "expressed disapproval" regarding Thursday's announcement that South Korean scientists have created 11 genetically matched human embryonic stem cell lines, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (McCullough, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/21). Woo Suk Hwang, Shin Yong Moon and colleagues from Seoul National University in South Korea used the somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning technique to create 11 embryonic stem cell lines that are genetic matches to patients ranging in age from two to 56, according to a study published online on May 19 in the journal Science.
By producing stem cells that are the genetic match of patients, the researchers believe that such cells could be more effective in treating those patients because the cells are less likely to be rejected by their immune systems. The South Korean researchers earlier had created a single stem cell line from a cloned embryo, but their technique was so onerous that many scientists doubted that it could be useful for creating treatments. However, the researchers believe the techniques described in the current study eventually could lead to treatments for a variety of conditions, including diabetes and Alzheimer's disease (California Healthline, 5/20). In reaction to the study, Bush said, "I'm very worried about cloning. I worry about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable" (Baker, Washington Post, 5/21).
A recent editorial and opinion piece examined the issue. Summaries appear below.
San Diego Union-Tribune: Bush "should reconsider" his position against federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, according to a Union-Tribune editorial. "Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans, including most Republicans, support this potentially lifesaving research, and they should not have to wait until scientists in other nations come up with cures," the editorial concludes (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/23).
- Michael Kinsley, Los Angeles Times: Despite a recent call by Leon Cass, chair of the President's Council on Bioethics, for a moratorium on research into therapeutic cloning, "no crash research program is going to produce some dazzling bioethical principle we never thought of before," Michael Kinsley, who has Parkinson's disease, writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece. Kinsley writes, "We know all that we're going to know about the moral issues, and we just have to decide" (Kinsley, Los Angeles Times, 5/22).
The Los Angeles Times on Saturday outlined recent research advances in South Korea, a bill in the U.S. Congress that would loosen federal restrictions on federal funding for research and some ethical concerns related to the issue. The article also discussed Proposition 71, which established the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Zach Hall, CIRM's interim president, who has said that research into therapeutic cloning will be the first to be funded with state funds (Kaplan, Los Angeles Times, 5/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.