July 20, 2006 -- President Bush used the first veto of his presidency to reject a bill from Congress that would have expanded federally funded medical research using embryonic stem cells.
Bush's veto came less than a day after the Senate passed the bill 63-37. Despite the broadly bipartisan vote, the president said he remains opposed to research that would require the destruction of human embryos.
"This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it," Bush said, in a White House speech.
Bush has never wavered from his position finding it unacceptable to destroy embryos for medical studies. But his veto put him at odds with many pro-life lawmakers in his own party, who support the research because of its potential for creating cures for a host of diseases.
Some of the bill's supporters accused President Bush of holding back promising medical research because of his personal ideology.
Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-Iowa), said the veto was "a shameful act of cruelty and hypocrisy.
"With the stroke of a pen today, the president vetoed this bill and vetoed the hopes of millions of suffering Americans," said Harkin, one of the bill's sponsors.
The House voted 235-193 to override the veto, but that would have required 290 votes to succeed.
If enacted, the bill would have overturned a 2001 order by Bush that confined federal research funding to embryonic cell lines that had already been created. The new bill sought to expand funding to lines derived from embryos stored in fertilization clinics, as long as the embryos are scheduled for destruction and the donors consent to the research in writing.
States Fund Research
Only 21 of the original 77 lines qualifying under Bush's policy have proven healthy enough for research studies.
Several states, including Maryland and Massachusetts, have laws allowing and funding research on new embryonic cell lines. California has dedicated $3 billion to research on the cells.
Still, hundreds of patient and scientific groups argued that only federal funding and the backing of the National Institutes of Health could keep American labs at pace with efforts in Europe and elsewhere.
"This research is going to take place. I'd like to see America take a leading role in this," said Lawrence T. Smith, chairman of the American Diabetes Association. "I see that America loses a prominent position in this research to other countries without the funding," he said.
In his speech, Bush promoted research on other types of stem cells, including those isolated from adult bone marrow and umbilical cord blood. Those sources have already been used to develop cures for forms of leukemialeukemia and other blood diseases.
Bush said he would not support the use of public money for studies harming what he sees as nascent humans. He delivered his speech while surrounded by children whose parents adopted them as embryos stored at fertilization clinics.
"American taxpayers would for the first time be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos," said Bush. "I will not allow it."
A decade-old law known as the Dickey Amendment already bans using federal money to destroy human embryos or fetuses. The bill passed by Congress and vetoed by the president would devote federal funding to research on cell lines created with private money.
"You listen to the president's speech and you wonder, 'Who was his science teacher?'" Harkin told reporters.
A bill increasing funding for alternative methods of stem cell extraction that do not harm embryos was expected to be on the president's desk along with the stem cell bill. It passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday afternoon but failed in the House.