Despite Veto Threat, House Approves Stem Cell Bill
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Los AngelesTimes Staff Writer
5:13 PM PDT, May 24, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Defying a veto threat from President Bush, the House on Tuesday approved legislation to lift restrictions that went into effect four years ago on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
The debate over the issue has pitted the hopes of patients suffering from debilitating ailments against the moral objections of conservatives, who see embryos as tantamount to children.
The 238-194 vote brought together most Democrats and 50 Republicans, who feared that the
The legislation has strong support in the Senate, as well as the backing of some leading conservatives, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. A spokesman for Hatch said the senator believed the legislation had the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Supporters in the Senate are urging Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to schedule a vote soon.
The House vote puts Bush in a political predicament. Core constituencies in the Republican political base oppose embryonic stem cell research, but a recent
Meeting with families who have had children from embryos donated by other couples, the president said the vote raised "grave moral issues."
"This bill would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life," Bush said. "Crossing this line would be a great mistake."
On the House floor, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, likened embryonic research to "killing some in the hopes of saving others."
His impassioned appeal was of little avail.
Lawmakers were lobbied by patients and their families -- and even by one of their own. Rep. Jim Langevin, R-R.I., whose spine was severed in a gun accident as a teen, said from his wheelchair that he believed that embryonic stem cell research "is very consistent" with his opposition to abortion.
"What could be more pro-life than extending and improving the quality of life of people suffering from disease?" he said.
Stem cells from human embryos are thought to be able to develop into any type of cell in the body, from heart muscle to neurons in the brain. Scientists theorize that if they can discover how that development occurs, they may be able to develop a "cellular repair kit" for the human body.
The authors of the embryonic stem cell bill said they were not seeking confrontation with Bush over a veto, but instead were hoping to draw the White House into a dialogue that could lead to compromise. Indeed, support for the legislation fell short of the 290 votes that would be needed to override a presidential veto.
"A lot can happen between the passage of legislation in one house and a veto by the president of the
Castle and his Democratic co-author, Diana DeGette of
The Castle-DeGette bill would allow federal funding of research involving embryonic stem cell lines created after August 2001, when Bush imposed the restrictions.
In what was seen as a compromise at the time, the president said federal funding would be limited to already created lines of stem cells. Some of those 20 or so lines are now believed to be contaminated. Privately funded research was not affected by the president's order.
The cells are typically collected from embryos created for in vitro fertilization treatments. Doctors create more test tube embryos for fertilization treatments than women use. Unused embryos are frozen, and each year, an estimated 8,000 embryos are discarded as hospital waste.
The Castle-DeGette bill would allow donated embryos to be used in federally funded research. Doctors and patients would have to certify that no money changed hands, and that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and were destined to be discarded.
"The bill is maddeningly reasonable," DeGette said. "It takes embryos that will be thrown out and uses them to the greater good."
She and Castle say they oppose the cloning of human beings.
But the Bush administration said the bill would cross a bright line drawn by the president, because embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of the embryos.
The legislation "would require federal taxpayer dollars to be used to encourage the ongoing destruction of nascent human life," said a White House policy document distributed to lawmakers. It "would compel all American taxpayers to pay for research that relies on the intentional destruction of human embryos for the derivation of stem cells, overturning the president's policy that supports research without promoting such ongoing destruction."
An embryo, DeLay said during the debate, "is a baby in development."
"The best we can say about embryonic stem cell research is that it's a scientific exploration into potential benefits (from) killing human beings," he said.
Abortion opponents said they were not against all stem cell research -- only that which involves human embryos.
They argue that stem cells can be ethically harvested from adults, and that umbilical cord blood holds great promise as a source.
In a separate vote, the House approved on a 431-1 vote legislation to provide $79 million in federal funds to collect stem cells from umbilical cord blood and facilitate medical research on therapeutic uses. The legislation would set up a national registry for patients looking for matches. The lone dissenter was Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
Some conservative leaders in the House had hoped the cord blood bill would draw votes away from the legislation promoting embryonic stem cell research.
But supporters of embryonic research said that stem cells from embryos have greater possibility of being developed into the different types of cells in the human body. Cord blood cells have been used mainly to treat blood disorders.
Castle and DeGette urged their supporters to vote for the cord blood bill as a complementary measure.