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Senate Will Debate Stem Cell Research

Supporters of Funding Bill Say It Will Pass; Some Lawmakers Expect Presidential Veto
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 14, 2006 -- Lawmakers are expected to support a repeal of President Bush's funding limits on embryonic stem cell research when the Senate takes up a series of bills beginning Monday.

Backers of the research are expressing cautious confidence they'll succeed in passing the bill. But they also expect Bush to veto the measure; it would be the president's first veto.

"The conventional wisdom is we have enough votes," Sen. Arlen Specter, (R-Pa.), a sponsor of the bill, tells WebMD.

Embryonic stem cells which are "pluripotent" have the ability to become any type of cell in the body, such as a brain cell or muscle cell. Scientists say that gives them great promise in treating a wide range of health problems, including diabetesdiabetes, Alzheimer's diseaseAlzheimer's disease, or spinal cord injuries.

Some opponents of abortion are opposed to stem cell research because it requires the destruction of embryos for the harvesting of stem cells.

Federal Limits

Federal funding for the research was strictly limited in August 2001 when President Bush confined government support to roughly 70 stem cell lines already created at the time. At the time, Bush said the decision would allow research to progress without spending taxpayer money on studies that destroy embryos.

Scientists have since complained that most of the cell lines allowed under the policy are useless for research because of contamination and other issues.

Several states, including California, Maryland, and Massachusetts, have passed legislation funding stem cell research.

The Senate bill, which passed the House last May with wide bipartisan support, would put NIH in charge of nationally funded research using excess embryos left over from fertilization treatments as a source of stem cells. Supporters say research can derive benefits from the embryos, which otherwise are destroyed when no longer needed.

"I think the White House is doing everything they can to stop it," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), an opponent of abortion who strongly supports the research. "A vote against it is to be on the wrong side of history," he says.

"I'm pretty confident," says Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the bill.

Sen. Tom Coburn, (R-Okla.), a doctor who is an opponent of the research, accused supporters of promoting myths about the promise of embryonic stem cells to treat diseases.

"I'm going to be there to answer it with science every time somebody says something that's untrue," he says.

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