More Than 200 House Members Ask President Bush To Expand Stem Cell Research Funds
A bipartisan group of 206 members of the House of Representatives on Wednesday sent a letter to President Bush asking him to change his policy restricting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the Washington Post reports (Weiss, Washington Post, 4/29). President Bush in 2001 announced a policy limiting federally funded stem cell research to embryonic stem cell lines created on or before that date. The policy allows federal funding for experiments involving stem cells already derived from embryos but not for research that would cause the destruction of additional embryos. Supporters of embryonic stem cell research say it could lead to treatments or cures for diseases such as cancer, juvenile diabetes and Alzheimer's, while opponents say the research is immoral because it requires the destruction of human embryos (California Healthline, 3/3). The lawmakers wrote in the letter, "Scientists have told us that since this policy went into effect more than two years ago, we have learned much more about why the embryonic stem cell lines eligible for federal funding will not be suitable to effectively promote this research" (CongressDaily, 4/28).
Although there were reportedly 78 stem cell lines available for federally funded research when Bush signed the policy, fewer than 20 stem cell lines currently are available for federally funded research, according to an NIH analysis (California Healthline, 3/3). In addition, many of these cell lines are contaminated with mouse "feeder cells," making them unsuitable for use in humans, according to the Denver Post (Soraghan, Denver Post, 4/29). According to the lawmakers, research could be conducted using the more than 400,000 human embryos that have been created for in vitro fertilization but remain frozen and unused. The embryos eventually will be destroyed regardless of whether they are used for research (Agence France-Presse, 4/28). The letter said that because stem cell research has the potential to "be used to treat and better understand deadly and disabling diseases that affect more than 100 million Americans, ... [w]e would very much like to work with you to modify the current embryonic stem cell policy so that it provides this area of research the greatest opportunity to lead to the treatments and cures we are hoping for." However, the letter did not offer specific proposals, according to the Post (Washington Post, 4/29). The letter also said that the limits on federal funding for stem cell research have prompted many scientists to leave the United States to perform research in other countries, Agence France-Presse reports. The lawmakers concluded, "We ... feel it is essential to relax the restrictions in the current policy for this research to be fully explored" (Agence France-Presse, 4/28).
If Bush does not agree to loosen the restrictions on the research, Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Michael Castle (R-Del.) likely will introduce legislation that would loosen the current government restrictions, DeGette said, the Denver Rocky Mountain News reports. DeGette said that in addition to the 206 representatives who signed the letter, "another couple of dozen" lawmakers have told her they likely would vote in favor of expanding federally funded stem cell research, according to the Rocky Mountain News (Scanlon, Denver Rocky Mountain News, 4/29). A measure needs 218 votes in the 435-person House to pass (Fox, Reuters, 4/29). White House spokesperson Trent Duffy said that Bush does not plan to loosen the restrictions, adding, "The president continues to believe strongly we should not cross a fundamental moral line by funding or encouraging the destruction of human embryos" (Denver Post, 4/29).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.