Bush Maintains Hard Stance on Stem Cell Bill

Embryonic stem cell research supporters are urging President George W. Bush to withdraw his threat to veto legislation that would allow federal funding for the controversial studies.

The bill, which passed the House a year ago, is expected to gain broad bipartisan support in the Senate when it comes to a vote later this month, but it may not win the necessary two-thirds margin required to override a veto.

The bill would accelerate stem cell research by easing existing restrictions and supporting studies that use stem cells derived from human embryos. Scientists believe this research offers great promise in the search for a cure and better treatment for many deadly diseases and disorders, including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

Legislative Limbo

Bush is still determined to veto the legislation, according to White House media reports, because the research involves the destruction of human embryos. Bush believes the legislation crosses a moral line, but many disagree.

“It would be a terrible disservice to the American people — the hopes of millions — that President Bush would veto this,” Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters Tuesday. “Our strategy is to get this on the floor and rely upon the goodwill of the president to help millions and millions of people.”

Federal regulations that President Bush announced in 2001 have restricted the number of human embryonic stem cell lines available for federally funded research, and attempts to use them have demonstrated that the number of viable lines is even smaller due to contamination.

Since 2001, scientists have discovered much better methods of deriving stem cell lines so that they do not face the same contamination issues. Supporters of the bill said significant expansion in the number of available lines is necessary in order to fully reap the medical rewards of stem cell research.

Two additional bills under consideration specifically address ethical concerns. One would make it illegal to implant embryos into a mother’s womb in order to harvest cells or tissue. The other would promote alternative research on stem cells that would not involve destroying an embryo.

Legal Opposition

Bush should not veto the legislation, argues Michael J. Shuster, Ph.D., a partner in the Intellectual Property Group and co-chair of the Life Sciences Group at Fenwick & West in San Francisco. The president’s stance is ill-conceived, in his view, and has destroyed U.S. preeminence in the field. It has delayed important research that could alleviate human suffering in areas such as spinal cord injury, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

“While states such as ours have voted with our dollars in passing bond measures that address this issue and others have similar pending measures, these local measures are arguably less efficient, dislocate scientists, and waste infrastructure dollars because the current federal ban prohibits the use of facilities that are supported by federal funds,” Shuster told TechNewsWorld.

Leadership at the federal level is needed to address the problems created by the current policy, according to Shuster, and the House’s passage and the Senate’s expected approval of the pending legislation are hopeful signs that rational science is again driving the nation’s science policies.

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