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Congress Passes Stem Cell Bill

President Bush Promises Veto Again
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 7, 2007 -- The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday expanding federally funded embryonic stem cell research, sending the measure to President Bush, who has promised a veto.

The vote marked the second time since January that the House has passed a bill seeking to repeal strict limits on the research that were set by the president in August 2001. While the bill had broad bipartisan support, with 247 members backing it, it still fell well short of the approximately 290 that would be needed to override a veto.

The bill restricts research to stem cells that are derived from frozen embryos that are already slated for destruction after fertility treatments. Additionally, the parents must consent in writing.

Still, that leaves potentially thousands of embryonic stem cell lines for federally funded research.

The bill would also require the National Institutes of Health to come up with ethical guidelines for conducting the research.

Many scientists have called for the changes, complaining that the two dozen or so stem cell lines eligible under current government policy are not fit for advanced research.

Bush vetoed similar legislation sent to him by Congress last year. He promised to do the same with Thursday’s bill.

Supporters of the bill shrugged off criticism from Republican leaders that they were trying to score political points by delivering a bill to Bush that is popular with the public but that he will not sign.

“Democrats and Republicans did the right thing by passing this bill again, and it is not too late for the president to do the right thing as well,” Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Majority Leader, told reporters.

The bill contains some differences from the one passed by the House in January. Most important among them is a provision requiring the government to fund research into stem cell derivation or extraction methods that do not cause damage to human embryos.

Bush has said he supports those provisions, but he still pledged to veto the broader bill.

In a statement released from Germany, where the president is attending the G-8 summit, Bush said the bill would destroy the balance his policy has struck between scientific progress and respect for human life in the form of embryos.

“If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos. Crossing that line would be a grave mistake. For that reason, I will veto the bill passed today,” the president said.

Senate to Act

The Constitution gives the president 10 days to veto the legislation. Reid, the Senate Democratic Leader, said the Senate would hold an override vote, possibly before July 4th. “We are going to move quickly,” Reid said.

Senate supporters are just one vote shy of the 67 they would need to override the president, assuming all 100 senators vote. But gaps in Senate attendance make it unclear how the razor-thin margin would wind up.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) is still absent while recovering from a brain hemorrhage suffered late last year. Reid said Thursday Johnson is expected to return in September, if not earlier.

Wyoming Republican Sen. Craig Thomas, a stem cell opponent, died earlier this week of acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells. A successor has not yet been named.

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