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Senate OKs Stem Cell Research Bill

Law Would Expand Funding; Presidential Veto Expected
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 18, 2006 -- The Senate voted to greatly expand federally funded embryonic stem cell research Tuesday, even as lawmakers prepared for President Bush to quickly veto the measure.

The White House issued an official veto threat Monday, and lawmakers and aides say they expect the president to veto the bill as early as Wednesday. That would likely be followed by a vote Wednesday night in the House on whether to override the veto.

"It will be pretty swift once you have a duly passed bill," White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters before the vote Tuesday.

Treatment Potential

Senators voted to repeal a policy ordered by President Bush in August 2001 that limited federal research to 77 embryonic stem cell lines already created at the time. Bush said then that the policy would let stem cell research proceed without promoting research that destroys human embryos for their cells.

But only about a quarter of the lines have proven viable for study. Backers of the research have lobbied ever since to broaden the research because of its potential to treat diseases, including diabetesdiabetes and Parkinson's diseaseParkinson's disease.

The bill, which passed the Senate 63-37, expands federal funding to an estimated 400,000 embryos formed for in vitro fertilization but no longer needed for the treatment. Scientists want to use the embryos to grow potentially thousands of cell lines that could be used to generate hundreds of kinds of human tissue.

"It is clear we either use them or destroy them," said Sen. Arlen Specter, (R-Pa.), a chief sponsor of the bill.

Congressional Debate

Some opponents of abortion remain strongly opposed to using embryos for their stem cells. In Congress the issue has divided pro-life lawmakers, who were among both the strongest opponents and staunchest backers of expanding research.

"I believe that by using these embryos for medical research we are in fact promoting life. In fact I believe that we are aiding the living, which is one of the most pro-life positions you can take," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah).

Sen. Sam Brownback, (R-Kan.), held a press conference featuring children whose parents adopted them as embryos frozen in fertilization clinics. Several conservative lawmakers promoted adoption as an alternative to using excess embryos for medical research.

"What we're talking about in this debate is the use of embryos, young humans, as raw materials, raw material in research, raw material to exploit," he said.

The bill was backed by dozens of medical research and patient groups; many of those groups called for President Bush to alter his plans for a veto.

But those plans seemed firm Tuesday evening as the Senate voted to repeal the President's limits.

Other Research Bills

At the same time, the Senate unanimously passed two other research bills. One bans research on embryos implanted in an animal womb or grown during a woman's pregnancypregnancy, a practice sponsors dubbed "fetal farming." The second commits federal research dollars to alternative methods of extracting stem cells without destroying embryos.

Both bills were slated for quick passage in the House Tuesday night. The entire package of three bills is then scheduled to head for the White House for approval or veto on Wednesday.

Supporters of stem cell research urged the president not to veto the legislation. "Mr. President, please don't dash these hopes. Please sign this bill. Not one of these embryos will ever have any use other than for embryonic stem cell research," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif).

House Majority Leader John Boehner, (R-Ohio), said Tuesday he expects the House to vote Wednesday evening on whether to override Bush's likely veto. The bill garnered 238 votes last May, far short of the 290 it would need to override the veto.

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