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Stem Cell Debate Returns to Senate

Bill Bans Cloned Babies but Allows Embryonic Disease Study

Limits on Stem Cells continued...

"One of the best ways to be pro-life is to help take care of the living," Hatch says. "I have never believed human life begins in a Petri dish."

A decision by President Bush in August 2001 limited federally funded embryonic stem cell research to 77 cell lines already in existence at the time. Many of these have proved inadequate for ongoing research because of a lack of genetic variety or potential contamination.

Republican House leaders agreed last month to allow a vote later this summer on proposals to expand the policy. The vote might allow research on embryos stored in fertilization clinics that were slated for destruction. Twice in the past three years the House has passed measures banning all forms of human cloning research, only to face opposition from the Senate.

Hatch and other backers predicted that they would secure the 60 votes necessary to overcome any procedural hurdles in the Senate. But the bill would still face likely opposition from President Bush, who has shown no signs of expanding his 2001 policy.

"We think we can get 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, and if we do it'll put a lot of pressure on everybody to do something about this," Hatch tells WebMD.

Douglas Johnson, the chief lobbyist for the National Right to Life Council, an antiabortion group, says efforts to ban all cloning also have wide congressional support and that Thursday's bill "has no chance to become law."

A Policy 'Patchwork'

New federal rules on stem cell research would smooth what has become a "patchwork" of state laws that are draining scientists and research money from some jurisdictions toward others, says Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the bill's lead Democratic sponsor.

Four states -- California, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts -- have laws funding embryonic stem cell research, while five others, including Arkansas, Iowa, and Michigan, outlaw all cloning studies. More than 20 other states are considering limits on the research.

Supporters also argue that their bill was needed to stem a tide of U.S. researchers who are fleeing to other countries where stem cell research is permitted. "Embryonic stem cell research is going to go on in the world one way or the other," Feinstein says.

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