Sen. Orrin Hatch Supports Bill To Ease Restrictions on Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Wednesday joined a group of House Republicans to support a bill (HR 810) that would loosen federal restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research and predicted that Congress will pass the legislation, the Salt Lake Tribune reports (Gehrke, Salt Lake Tribune, 5/12).
President 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. 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.
The House legislation would allow researchers to receive federal funding for the study of embryonic stem cells derived from embryos created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients. Under the measure, patients could not be compensated for embryo donation and would have to have full knowledge of how the donated embryos would be used. The legislation would not allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on stem cell lines or embryos created expressly for research purposes.
Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), who is the primary sponsor of the measure, in March after meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Ohio) and Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said that the leaders concluded that the House should move forward in some way on the current legislation or something similar to it (California Healthline, 2/17).
Hatch, who is an abortion-rights opponent, said that the House bill is a "critical first step" toward loosening the embryonic stem cell policy, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 5/11). Although Hatch in the Senate has co-sponsored a "more expansive" bill (S 876) to loosen the embryonic stem cell research restrictions, he said the House legislation is "an ingenious approach to break through the logjam" on the issue, according to CQ Today (Schuler, CQ Today, 5/11).
"I come to this issue as a proud right-to-life senator," Hatch said, adding, "I do believe, very strongly, that it is possible to be both antiabortion and pro-embryonic stem cell research. I believe that pro-life means caring for the living as well" (Salt Lake Tribune, 5/12).
Castle said that the measure "expands (the research) within Bush's ethical guidelines" while eliminating the date restriction set down in Bush's executive order (CQ Today, 5/11).
Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) said that more than 200 House members already have committed to voting for the bill, according to the Tribune (Salt Lake Tribune, 5/12). Some House members used their votes on the federal budget "as leverage" to get a commitment from House leaders for a floor vote on the embryonic stem cell research bill, and the vote could come next week, according to Roll Call (Kondracke, Roll Call, 5/12).
Hatch said there are currently about 60 votes for the House bill in the Senate. He added that he has had discussions with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) about scheduling a floor vote, according to the Tribune. "If we can pass this in the House, I really believe we can pass it in the Senate," Hatch said (Salt Lake Tribune, 5/12).
However, Bush has "resisted" change to his policy and has not said whether he would veto the House measure if it passed both chambers, according to CQ Today (CQ Today, 5/11). Hatch said that Bush would be under pressure from the scientific and medical communities to sign the bill, according to the Tribune (Salt Lake Tribune, 5/12).
House Republican moderates on Wednesday announced an advertisement campaign to support the bill. The campaign will highlight former first lady Nancy Reagan's support for loosening restrictions on embryonic stem cell research (CQ Today, 5/11).
Print ads are scheduled to appear this week in Roll Call and The Hill, and television ads will be shown on national cable television stations in a few weeks, according to the Washington Times (Washington Times, 5/12).
The President's Council on Bioethics on Thursday is scheduled to release a report that was intended to outline possible ways to make embryonic stem cell research less controversial by describing methods for producing stem cells without destroying human embryos, but the council could not reach any unanimous recommendations, according to the Chicago Tribune. The council's disagreements over the new and "in some cases strange" methods proposed by members shows "how difficult it can be to bring together opposing viewpoints" on the issue, according to the Tribune.
One proposal by council member William Hurlbut, a Stanford University bioethicist, would use cloning technology to produce an "embryo-like" group of cells from which stem cells could be extracted, according to the Tribune. Supporters of the approach say that the group of cells would "not be an actual human embryo" but would still produce stem cells for research, according to the Tribune. However, while opponents say such an approach would be "well-intentioned," it still could "violate the sanctity of human life," according to the Tribune.
The council rejected a proposal to obtain stem cells by removing single cells from living embryos being used in fertility treatments. The technique would not require the destruction of embryos but could put the embryos "at risk," which the council called "an unacceptable trade-off," according to the Tribune.
Michael Gazzaniga, a professor of neurology at Dartmouth College, in a rebuttal to the council report said the proposed alternatives are "high-risk gambles" and evade the question as to whether the United States should endorse embryonic stem cell research as it currently is done or whether the country will "remain hostage to the arbitrary views of those with certain beliefs about the nature of life and its origins" (Manier, Chicago Tribune, 5/12).