WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Jan. 11, 2007 -- The Democratic-led House backed expanding embryonic stem
cell research for the second time in a year Thursday, repeating a challenge to
President Bush, who opposes the expansion.
The bill was identical to one approved by Congress last May. It removes
restrictions set by Bush in 2001 limiting federal funding of stem cell research
to approximately 70 cell lines. The president used the first veto of his tenure
in office to reject that bill.
Democrats made passing the bill a second time a marquee part of their agenda
for the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress, which convened last week. The
issue figured heavily in many House and Senate races in November.
The bill drew on bipartisan support to pass 253 to 174, a gain of 15 votes
in the House over last year.
Senate Democratic leaders say they will also act in the coming weeks to
repeat last year's approval. But the White House said Bush would still reject
"The president would veto H.R. 3 if it came to his desk," says Tony
Fratto, the White House deputy press secretary.
Stem cells are found in human embryos a few days after conception. The cells
have the ability to form nearly any cell in the body. Many scientists believe
that this characteristic -- known as "pluripotency" -- gives stem cells
the potential to treat a range of ailments, including diabetes, Parkinson's
disease, and spinal cord injuries.
But opponents, including Bush, say that potential is not worth the cost of
destroying human embryos that are in storage following fertilization
"You have to question the means. Science tells us what we can do. It
doesn't tell us what we should do," says Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif.
This week, the White House released a statement praising the potential of
extracting stem cells from alternative sources -- and thus avoiding destroying
embryos. The position was bolstered this week when researchers from Wake Forest
University in North Carolina suggested that cells isolated from amniotic fluid
of pregnant women had similar pluripotent properties possessed by embryonic
The bill's opponents touted the report as evidence that disease cures could
still be found without destroying embryos.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., the bill's chief sponsor, says supporters would
be open to a deal with Bush.
"We would be willing to change the bill in consultation with the White
House," she says.
"I truly hope we can put together a piece of legislation the president
can sign," says Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., the bill's lead GOP sponsor.
Without such a deal, it seems likely that the bill is destined to die. The
House remains far short of the 291 votes needed to override a presidential
The White House told members of Congress this week that Bush would soon sign
an executive order to provide federal funding for research using alternative
stem cell sources.
Thursday's bill could also face changes in the Senate. Sen. Tom Harkin,
D-Iowa, said this week he expected opponents to offer a range of amendments,
including one promoting alternative stem cell extraction methods and another
banning embryo cloning for research.
SOURCES: Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif. Rep. Diana DeGette,
D-Colo. Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., Tony Fratto, deputy White House press
secretary. Advancing Stem Cell Science Without Destroying Human Life, White
House Domestic Policy Council, January 2007.
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