Lawmakers Introduce Legislation To Expand Federal Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research
A bipartisan group of U.S. Senate and House members on Wednesday introduced a bill (HR 810) in both chambers that would expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research and vowed to "do whatever it takes" to pass the legislation, the Denver Post reports (Mulkern, Denver Post, 2/17).
Members of Congress "representing a wide spectrum of political sensibilities" called for congressional support of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, which would loosen federal funding restrictions on the research imposed by President Bush, according to the Washington Post (Weiss, Washington Post, 2/17). Bush's embryonic stem cell policy -- which he announced on Aug. 9, 2001 -- limits federally funded embryonic stem cell research to stem cell lines created on or before that date (California Healthline, 7/14/04).
Critics of Bush's policy have said that the embryonic stem cell lines available for federal funding are not biologically diverse, are contaminated with nonhuman material and are "useless" for research into possible cures for degenerative diseases, according to the Salt Lake Tribune (Smith, Salt Lake Tribune, 2/17).
Reps. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the House sponsors of the bill, introduced a similar measure in 2004, but Republican leaders blocked the bill from coming to a vote (Denver Post, 2/17). This year's measure has 156 co-sponsors -- compared with 25 co-sponsors for last year's bill -- and Castle is "optimistic" about its passage, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Brulliard, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/17).
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said the measure would "improve the ability of our scientists to unleash the promise of stem cell research by increasing both the quantity and quality of stem cell lines available for federally funded research." He added that the legislation could "invigorate our nation's stem cell basic research by lifting the current limit on the number of stem cell lines eligible" for federal funding (Agence France-Presse, 2/16).
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a Senate co-sponsor of the measure, said, "If the federal government doesn't act, we're going to have a patchwork of state laws, and that's already happening" (Reuters, 2/16).
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said the bill would promote a "real culture of life -- one that takes every appropriate step within our vision to enable our fellow human beings to lead full and productive lives" (CQ HealthBeat, 2/16).
A spokesperson for Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who is a leader among congressional Republicans who oppose embryonic stem cell research, said he was still studying the language of the bill and could not comment, the Washington Post reports (Washington Post, 2/17).
White House spokesperson Ken Lisaius said that Bush's position on federal funding for stem cell research is "well-known" and remains "unchanged." However, White House officials did not address whether the president would veto the legislation if it is approved by Congress (Denver Post, 2/17).