President Bush Signs Ethical Stem Cell Bill Over Democrat Objections

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Following what amounted to a seven month filibuster on the part of Senate Democrats President Bush signed into law a bill establishing a national bank for stem cells derived from umbilical cords. Umbilical cord stem cells have been used to treat 67 different diseases including leukemia and anemia and obtaining them poses no ethical problems.

Following what amounted to a seven month filibuster on the part of Senate Democrats President Bush signed into law a bill establishing a national bank for stem cells derived from umbilical cords. Umbilical cord stem cells have been used to treat 67 different diseases including leukemia and anemia and obtaining them poses no ethical problems.

The bill first passed the House in May but was held up in the Senate by Democrats. The bill faced particularly stiff opposition from Iowa Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid both of whom had been preventing a vote using procedural tactics. They were demanding that a vote be held on a bill that would provide funding for embryo destructive research. The cord blood bill had wide support in the Senate and once brought to floor it passed unanimously.

The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 will provide $265 million for life saving stem cell therapy, cord blood and bone marrow transplant. Specifically, $79 million will be authorized for the collection and storage of cord blood stem cells with the goal of reaching a total inventory of 150,000 units. This would make them available to more than 90 percent of patients in need. A specific focus of the collection will be to provide more genetic diversity in available units.

The bill's author, New Jersey Republican Chris Smith, has worked to establish a national cord blood bank since 2001. "So many people don't realize that cord blood and adult stem cells are already treating patients, and have achieved remarkable breakthroughs over the past year," said Smith. "Now that President Bush has made my bill law, for the first time a nationwide stem cell transplantation system will be established."

Leading Senate efforts to pass the bill was Kansas Republican Sam Brownback. During debate over the bill Brownback noted that the cord blood bill was uncontroversial. He said it deserved immediate passage because patients are currently being cured using cord blood treatments. "Everybody supports cord blood research. It provides real cures today. I have two pictures of people who . . . have been treated. . . . The problem is, we don't have a big registry of it around the country. So it is real hit and miss. Some people are lucky enough to find it; others don't and die today," Brownback said.

Smith expressed a similar opinion following passage. "Thousands of Americans who might have otherwise continued to suffer or died will now be saved because larger and diverse inventories of umbilical cord stem cells will be available," he said.

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