Washington: The Democratic-led U.S. Senate voted on 11 April 2007 to lift a key restriction by President George W. Bush on the federal funding of stem cell research.
But Congress is not expected to be able to muster enough votes to override a promised Bush veto, leaving the emotionally charged issue to resurface in next year’s presidential and congressional races. Bush vetoed a similar effort last year.
Advocates and a majority of the American public back stem cell research because it offers major hope for cures for ailments such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries. But the testing requires destruction of days-old embryos, which is largely condemned by abortion foes.
The Senate was also expected to approve a White House-backed alternative later during the day. It would encourage research on certain forms of stem cells but not lift Bush’s restrictions. Critics called it a sham that would allow senators to say they voted for stem cell research.
“Tonight, I am appealing to President Bush to reexamine the substance of this bill, and to reconsider his threat to veto it,” said Sen.Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and a chief sponsor of the measure.
“There are some 400,000 leftover, unwanted embryos in fertility clinics across America,” Harkin said. “All we are saying is, instead of throwing those leftover embryos away, let’s allow couples to donate a few of them, if they wish, to create stem cell lines that could cure diseases and save lives.”
At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino said the legislation “crosses a moral line that would use taxpayer dollars to destroy human embryos and that’s a moral line the president said he would not cross.”
Republican and Democrat backers of the bill predict it will eventually become law.
“He (Bush) is not going president forever,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.
Shortly after taking office in 2001, Bush issued an executive order that permitted for the first time federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. But he limited it to batches available as of that August.
Alternative Legislation Approved
To override a veto, a two-thirds majority vote would be needed in the Senate and House of Representatives. In January, the House passed a similar bill, but far short of such a margin.
Later on 11 April, the Senate passed a White House-backed alternative, 70-28, with mostly Republican support. It would encourage research on certain forms of stem cells but not beyond Bush’s 2001 restrictions.
Critics called the measure a sham that would let lawmakers say they voted for stem cell research. But proponents said it would provide a needed step forward by allowing research on some embryos that can no longer develop into fetuses.
“Unlike the other bill being debated by Congress, it could avoid a veto and actually become law,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican.
Stem cells are a kind of master cell for the body, capable of growing into various tissue and cell types. Scientists hope to use the cells from embryos to repair damaged tissue.