Bills Dealing with Stem Cells, Bioethics up for Debate in Senate

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An intense battle over stem cell federal funding and other bioethical issues is expected to take place in the Senate this week. Legislators will soon consider a bill that would overturn President Bush’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001. But alternative legislation is also expected to be introduced including one bill that would offer federal funding for research into ethical means of obtaining pluripotent stem cells.

Volume 2 Number 50
July 19, 2005

     An intense battle over stem cell federal funding and other bioethical issues is expected to take place in the Senate this week. Legislators will soon consider a bill that would overturn President Bush’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001. But alternative legislation is also expected to be introduced including one bill that would offer federal funding for research into ethical means of obtaining pluripotent stem cells.

     A vote is expected sometime this week on a bill sponsored by Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that would provide federal funding for any embryonic stem cell line as long as it was derived from a “surplus” embryo that was created for in vitro fertilization. A similar bill was passed in the House in May. According to a report in CQ Today, it is thought that the Senate version will pass with at least 60 votes. The legislation has split Republican members of Congress but President Bush has promised to make the bill his first veto if it makes it to his desk. In neither the House nor the Senate are there thought to be enough votes to override a presidential veto.

     Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist plans to introduce a bill that would fund research into methods of obtaining embryonic-like stem cells – called pluripotent cells – by means that do not require the destruction of human embryos. Such methods could include the recently proposed method known as oocyte assisted reprogramming (OAR) in which it is believed that pluripotent cells could be created directly without an embryo being created and destroyed in the process. Frist’s bill might peel away some support for the Specter-Harkin legislation because it would give senators afraid of being labeled anti-science the opportunity to support a form of promising scientific research while still rejecting research that requires the destruction of human embryos.

     Several other bills may also make it to the floor this week. One bill promoting the use of umbilical cord stem cells has already passed in the House and is expected to easily pass in the Senate. Also up for possible consideration is Sen. Sam Brownback’s bill banning all forms of human cloning. Comprehensive bans on cloning have gained approval from the House on several occasions but have consistently been held up in the Senate. Brownback is also sponsoring a bill that would outlaw chimeras, human-animal hybrids. The CQ Today story also reports that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Tex., will introduce legislation similar to the Specter-Harkin bill except that it will ban research using newly created embryos.

     That the Senate would take on so many pieces of proposed legislation dealing with bioethical issues is significant. The last time there was debate on the Senate floor on a bioethics bill was seven years ago when a human cloning ban was considered. Many news reports have claimed that most Americans support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research but a poll sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and conducted in May showed that when people learned that the research required the killing of a week-old human embryo they opposed it by a 16 percent margin.

Copyright 2005—Culture of Life Foundation.
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