Senate To Begin Debate, Vote on Stem Cell Legislation
The Senate on Monday is scheduled to begin debate and vote on three stem cell-related bills, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) announced Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13).
One bill (HR 810) the Senate will debate is known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 and has been approved by the House. The bill 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 President 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 are currently 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, 7/12).
The bills are scheduled to be brought to the Senate floor for debate on Monday and voted on the following day, CQ Today reports.
According to Elizabeth Wenk -- an aide to Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), who sponsored the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act -- the House in the next few weeks could debate the Santorum-Specter and Brownback-Santorum bills if they are passed by the Senate (Crowley, CQ Today, 7/12).
"Embryonic stem cell research offers tremendous promise, and the Congress should enhance our efforts to fund it," Frist writes in a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece. "Quite simply," Bush's policies on embryonic stem cell research "ha[ve] proved too restrictive," Frist writes, adding, "While I think the president was right about his policy at the time, it has now become clear that the policy will eventually hold back scientific progress."
Frist calls for further research into creating cell lines with embryonic stem cell qualities without destroying human embryos, adding that one of the three bills the Senate will consider calls for funding such research. He concludes, "We must, however, do so within the context of a carefully constructed moral framework" (Frist, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13).