Frist To Support Bill To Expand Federal Funding for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Friday delivered a speech on the Senate floor backing legislation (HR 810/S 471) that would expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, breaking from his previous support of President Bush's embryonic stem cell research policy, Reuters reports (Reuters, 7/29).
Bush's current policy allows federal funding for embryonic stem cell research only when conducted using stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, while the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 -- which has been approved by the House but has stalled in the Senate -- would allow funding for research using stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients (California Healthline, 7/13).
"While human embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage, the limitations put in place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases," Frist said, adding, "Therefore, I believe the president's policy should be modified." While clarifying his antiabortion position and belief that life begins at conception, he said, "I also believe that embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported" (Stolberg, New York Times, 7/29).
Although Frist's support of the House-approved measure could enhance its chances of approval in the Senate, a vote on the bill is not likely to occur before September because Congress is scheduled to adjourn this weekend for the monthlong August recess, the Times reports. Because Frist is a medical doctor, many lawmakers look to him for guidance on how to vote on health-related legislation.
In addition, Frist's break with Bush on the issue could provide Republicans who are undecided on how to vote with the "political license" to vote in favor of expanding embryonic stem cell research, according to the Times (New York Times, 7/29).
However, Frist on Thursday refused to bring to a vote before the recess the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act or any of the six or seven other related measures being considered because he said he could not get all senators to agree to vote on the measures without attaching amendments that intend to terminate the bills. "I'm not going to give up on the stem cell issue because the research is hugely promising," Frist said, adding, "I hope that after we get back ... we will be able to address the issue" (Reston, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/29).
Bush has threatened to veto the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act if it passes the Senate (California Healthline, 7/13).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Thursday reported on research aimed at finding alternative methods for creating or harvesting stem cells that act like human embryonic stem cells. The segment includes comments from Kevin Eggan, a researcher at Harvard University, and Alan Trounson, a researcher at Monash University in Australia (Palca, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/28). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.