Senate Begins Debate on Stem Cell Legislation
The Senate on Monday is expected to begin debate on three stem-cell related bills -- including a House-approved bill (HR 810) that would expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research that President Bush has threatened to veto -- and votes on the bills are expected Tuesday, the New York Times reports (Stolberg, New York Times, 7/16).
The House-approved Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 would allow funding for research using stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients. The bill seeks to address a policy, announced by Bush on Aug. 9, 2001, that allows federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research only when it uses stem cell lines created on or before that date.
Another bill (S 2754) the Senate will consider, sponsored by Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), would require NIH to research and fund methods of creating embryonic stem cell lines without destroying human embryos. The bill contains a rule that the measure would not affect any regulations regarding embryonic stem cells, human cloning or any other research methods that currently are prohibited. The bill also calls for research on adult stem cells.
The other bill (S 3504) to be considered, sponsored by Santorum and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), would make it illegal to conduct research on embryos from "fetal farms," where human embryos could be made in a nonhuman uterus or from human pregnancies that were created specifically for the purpose of research.
Under terms of an agreement reached by Senate leaders of both parties, the bills will be debated for 12 hours. To pass, each of the bills will need at least 60 votes, and amendments will not be permitted. Specter said there are enough supporters to pass each of the three bills.
The White House plans to support the Santorum and Specter bill and likely will support the Santorum and Brownback bill. However, Bush has said he will veto the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act because it would allow the destruction of embryos (California Healthline, 7/13).
The debate over the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act has "exposed perhaps the most profound split on an issue in the Republican Party" during the Bush administration, while most Democrats are expected to support the measure, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), said she decided to vote for the bill after much thought and being persuaded that the research is limited to "embryos that would otherwise be thrown away" (Chicago Tribune, 7/16).
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) are among other Republicans who support the measure, while some Republicans, including Brownback, oppose it.
Brownback said, "We can't use humans as lab rats," adding, "You're researching on young humans. You let that human grow, he becomes a full-scale person by anybody's definition" (Stearns/Talev, McClatchy/Miami Herald, 7/14).
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who supports embryonic stem cell research, said the Santorum and Brownback measures might "give a sense of cover" to senators opposed to the House-approved bill.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a co-sponsor of a Senate companion bill to the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (S 471), in a memo sent to Senate Democrats on Friday called for support of all three measures, saying Santorum and Brownback's bills are "harmless but accomplish nothing."
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that "[e]veryone knows" the two bills are "fake," adding that Santorum's bill "doesn't even change current law" (Heil, CongressDaily, 7/17).