Senate Sends Stem Cell Research Bill to President Bush
The Senate on Wednesday voted 63-34 to pass a bill (S 5) President Bush has threatened to veto that would expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, the New York Times reports. The chamber also voted 70-28 to pass a bill (S 30) that would allow federal funding for stem cell research using embryos with no chance of survival (Luo, New York Times, 4/12).
Federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research is allowed only for research using embryonic stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, under a policy announced by Bush on that date. The bill Bush has threatened to veto, called the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, would allow federal funding for research using stem cells derived from human embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients.
The Senate measure differs from a House-approved bill (HR 3) of the same name because it includes language proposed last year by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) that would require NIH to research and fund methods of creating embryonic stem cell lines without destroying embryos.
The other bill, known as the HOPE Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), would allow federal funding for stem cell research using embryos with no chance of survival. Coleman and Isakson's measure would fund research on stem cells taken from "dead" human embryos or extracted from living embryos without destroying them.
In addition, it would allow federal funding for research on stem cell lines derived from embryos that are not likely to survive during the freezing process or in the womb.
According to Isakson, the measure also would promote research using stem cells derived from other sources, such as amniotic fluid (California Healthline, 4/11).
According to the Times, the vote for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act garnered "near unanimous" support among Democrats and 17 Republicans (New York Times, 4/12).
Sens. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) were the only Democrats to vote against the measure (Dilanian, USA Today, 4/12).
Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), all of whom support the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, were not present for the vote, CongressDaily reports (Johnson, CongressDaily, 4/12). Even with the potential support of 66 senators, backers would be one vote short of the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/12).
Bush in a statement said the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act "crosses a moral line that I and many others find troubling." He added, "If it advances all the way through Congress to my desk, I will veto it."
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said, "The overwhelming majority of Americans -- and their members of Congress -- want to take the shackles off of federal researchers," adding, "If the president does veto this bill, ... then we will be back. Momentum is building. One way or another, we are going to lift these arbitrary restrictions this year."
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, "Our country is in grave danger of falling behind in one of the most promising fields of biomedical research" (Weiss, Washington Post, 4/12).
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said that research on adult and amniotic stem cells offered more promise than embryonic stem cell research, adding that embryos are "not potential human life" but actual "human life" (New York Times, 4/12).
Commenting on the HOPE Act, John Gearhart, director of the Division of Developmental Genetics at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, said, "We find this to be an absolutely bizarre bill because the presumption upon which it is based is flawed."
Other stem cell scientists said the measure, in reality, would enable little new research, the Times reports.
Coleman said the measure affords an opportunity to "get beyond the culture wars" (New York Times, 4/12).
C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" on Wednesday included discussions about the legislation with Harkin and Brownback ("Washington Journal," C-SPAN, 4/11).
Video of the segment is available online.
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on the Senate votes. The segment includes comments from Hatch, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Brownback, Coleman, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Specter (Welna, "Morning Edition," NPR, 4/12). Audio of the segment is available online.
"Morning Edition" on Thursday also included a discussion with NPR science correspondent Joe Palca about federal regulation of stem cell research and the science behind the debate (Inskeep, "Morning Edition," NPR, 4/12).
Audio of the segment is available online.