House Approves Bill To Loosen Restrictions on Federally Funded Embryonic Stem Cell Research
The House on Tuesday approved 238-194 a bill (HR 810) that would loosen restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, USA Today reports (Stone, USA Today, 5/25). The current embryonic stem cell research policy allows federal funding for the research only when the cells are extracted from stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, the date that President Bush announced the policy. However, critics of Bush's policy have said that the available stem cell lines are not biologically diverse, are contaminated with nonhuman material and are useless for research into possible cures for degenerative diseases.
The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, which is sponsored by Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.) and has nearly 200 co-sponsors, would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and allow research using 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 (California Healthline, 5/23). Fifty Republicans joined all but 14 Democrats in supporting the measure, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer (Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/25).
The Senate is expected to take up an identical bill soon, and the measure likely has enough support to pass (Wysocki, Wall Street Journal, 5/25). Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said he intends to filibuster the measure to prevent a vote (Allen/Connolly, Washington Post, 5/25). However, legislative supporters of the measure believe they have the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster and force an up-or-down vote, increasing the likelihood that the bill will be passed and sent to Bush, according to the Wall Street Journal (Wall Street Journal, 5/25).
Bush has said he would veto the measure, which despite some Republican support did not gain the necessary number of votes in the House to override a presidential veto, the Baltimore Sun reports (Baer, Baltimore Sun, 5/25). Bush has "pulled out all the stops" to defeat the measure, including holding a White House event on Tuesday featuring children who were born as the result of embryos adopted from fertility clinics, according to the New York Daily News (Bazinet, New York Daily News, 5/25).
"The families here today have either adopted or given up for adoption frozen embryos that remained after fertility treatments," Bush said at the event, adding, "Rather than discard these embryos created during in vitro fertilization or turn them over for research that destroys them, these families have chosen a life-affirming alternative. Twenty-one children here today found a chance for life with loving parents" (White House release, 5/24). Bush said that the bill loosening restrictions for embryonic stem cell research "would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life," adding, "Crossing this line would be a great mistake" (Henderson, Boston Globe, 5/25).
Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.), who describes himself as "100% pro-life," voted in favor of the measure, saying that embryonic stem cell research "is an issue of life to me," adding that he did not want any more children to die of type 1 diabetes (USA Today, 5/25).
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said that public opinion supports relaxing restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, according to the Denver Rocky Mountain News. "I was up against the majority leadership and the presidential veto threat," DeGette said, adding, "In the end, I thought some people might cave to the pressure. There's nothing that compares to this" (Sprengelmeyer, Denver Rocky Mountain News, 5/25).
Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said that he thinks Bush will be open to negotiation on the measure if it passes the Senate, according to the Chicago Tribune. "His advisers will strongly tell him to avoid making this the first veto of his presidency," Kirk said (Neikirk/Silva, Chicago Tribune, 5/25).
However, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who opposes the measure, cast the debate in "stark moral terms," according to the New York Times. "An embryo is a person, a distinct, internally directed, self-integrating human organism," DeLay said, adding, "We were all at one time embryos ourselves. So was Abraham. So was Muhammad. So was Jesus of Nazareth" (Stolberg, New York Times, 5/25).
Opponents of the bill said that relaxing federal funding could open a "Pandora's box" that could lead to human reproductive cloning, according to the Washington Times (DeBose, Washington Times, 5/25).
However, bill opponents were "elated" that Tuesday's votes in support of the measure fell short of the 290 votes needed to override a veto, according to the New York Times. "I hate to lose, but I feel pretty good about this vote," Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) said, adding, "We beat a veto-proof margin by 50 votes" (New York Times, 5/25).
The House on Tuesday approved 431-1 a second stem cell research bill (HR 2520) that would allocate $79 million in federal funding for the collection and storage of umbilical cord blood, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 5/24). Only Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) voted against the measure (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/25). The Cord Blood Stem Cell Act of 2005 -- sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who opposes embryonic stem cell research -- would establish and authorize funding for an umbilical cord blood bank network for the purpose of stem cell research and treatment of diseases. Umbilical cord blood contains hematopoeitic progenitor cells -- the same kind of stem cells found in adult bone marrow -- that could be used to treat patients with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and several other diseases.
However, the majority of parents of the approximately four million infants born each year in the United States choose not to store umbilical cord blood to harvest stem cells, and the blood is discarded. According to an Institute of Medicine report released in April, stem cells extracted from umbilical cord blood could provide treatment for about 11,700 people annually in the United States, but about 100,000 more public donations of such blood must be made over the next few years to build an adequate national supply (California Healthline, 4/15).
Many people who oppose embryonic stem cell research support stem cell research that does not involve the destruction of human embryos, including adult stem cell research and research using stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood, according to the Los Angeles Times (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 5/25).