Washington: President Bush vetoed a measure on 21 June that would have undone restrictions he placed on federal funding of stem-cell research, setting up the issue for the 2008 presidential race.
Confronted by polls consistently showing public support for federal funding of stem-cell research, Bush coupled his veto with an executive order directing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund research projects involving new techniques using non-embryonic stem cells.
Critics said the order does not allow NIH to do anything it could not already do. And political foes said Bush's actions show he is ignoring Americans' desire to expand this research as part of the hunt for cures to life-threatening diseases.
But in the East Room, standing with two women who benefited from the use of non-embryonic stem cell techniques, Bush touted his veto as morally correct and scientifically defensible.
"If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos," Bush said, referring to stem cells derived from embryos produced at in-vitro fertilization clinics and then donated for research with donor consent. "I made it clear to Congress and to the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line."
Democrats, lacking the votes to override the veto, vowed to make the issue a prime one in 2008.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean called the veto "just another example of how out of touch he is with the American people."
"We absolutely must elect a Democratic president in 2008 to provide the change in direction that the American people have demanded," Dean said.
In a Tuesday (20 June) e-mail from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said, "Tomorrow, with a single stroke of his cruel veto pen, President Bush will dash the hopes of millions of Americans seeking cures through the miracle of stem-cell research."
The e-mail included a pitch for funds and a vow to continue battling against Bush.
The vetoed bill was a Democratic attempt to undo a restriction, enacted by Bush in August 2001, that limited federal support only to cells then in existence. Private organizations and states are under no such restrictions.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. and a leading Democratic presidential contender, said in a speech on 21 June that the veto was "just one more example as to why we're going to send (Republicans) packing in January 2009 and return progressive leadership to the White House."
Among leading GOP contenders, only Sen. John McCain of Arizona favours federal funding for stem-cell research.
Bush's move drew fire from the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, whose president, Sean Tipton, said Bush's executive order "is nothing new since NIH has already been conducting this research for the past 20 years."
"In the face of spiraling health-care costs, President Bush once again used the stroke of his veto pen to hamper the progress of scientific and medical research, as well as endanger the future health and well being of the American people," Tipton said in a statement.
But Bush's actions drew enthusiastic support from about 300 invited guests in the East Room for the announcement. Included were members of National Right to Life, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical. And it is not the only option before us," said Bush, who touted recent research showing increased potential for non-embryonic stem cells.
He introduced Carol Franz of Oswego, N.Y., who twice recovered from cancer as a result of treatments using adult stem cells, and Kaitlyne McNamara of Middletown, Conn., an 18-year-old born with spina bifida.
Bush said McNamara overcame severe bladder problems when doctors took healthy stem cells from her bladder and used them to grow a new bladder that was transplanted into her,
"Scientific advances like this one are important and should give us hope that there's a better way forward than scientific advances that require the destruction of a human life," Bush said.
Polls show strong public support for stem cell research. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll in early May showed that 53% of respondents said the federal government should pay for research using stem cells from human embryos.
An April USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 64% of respondents said Bush should not veto the bill. Over 60% of respondents favoured no or eased restrictions on the use of federal money for embryonic stem-cell research.
Over 20% favoured the existing restrictions and 16% said no federal money should be used on such research. Over 4% were undecided or declined to answer.
Ken Herman's e-mail address is khermancoxnews.com