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Parkinson's Disease Health Center

Senate Passes New Stem Cell Bill

But Tally Falls Short of Votes Needed to Override a Presidential Veto
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 11, 2007 -- The Senate voted Wednesday to repeal the Bush administration's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, marking the second time in less than a year Congress has voted by wide bipartisan margins to reverse the president.

President Bush vetoed the bill last year and threatened Tuesday to do so again. If he does, the Senate could move soon to attempt to override the veto. Wednesday's 63-34 tally put the supporters of a repeal within close range of the two-thirds majority needed to override the president's veto.

The vote sets up another showdown over the embryonic stem cell issue, which played a prominent role in congressional elections last year.

Still, the vote could amount to little more than a political exercise, at least for the moment. In January the House passed its version of the bill by 253 to 174, nearly 40 votes short of a two-thirds majority.

Supporters acknowledged that they were unlikely to succeed in reversing Bush's stem cell policy as long as he's in office.

"It's one of those battles you have to keep fighting until you win," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a supporter of the bill. "This is a bill we're going to win on eventually."

As much as 70% of the public has told pollsters they support expanding federal funding of stem cell studies. But Bush has remained steadfast in opposition because such an expansion would be achieved by destroying embryos for their cells.

Many lawmakers remain opposed to the research on moral grounds. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said the bill "crosses a moral line" by destroying embryos. He sponsored a second bill promoting alternative stem cell sources.

"[The Senate bill] is going to be vetoed, and that means it doesn't go anywhere," said Coleman. The alternative "does move the ball forward."

The White House said the president would sign a second bill also passed by the Senate promoting research that spares embryos.

Role of Stem Cells in Research

Embryonic stem cells are considered an important new avenue for research because of their ability to form any tissue in the body. Research on the cells has not yet yielded any cures for human diseases.

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