- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

Senators will tackle the sensitive issue of embryonic stem-cell research next month, and a bipartisan group of senators is pushing hard to expand President Bush’s 2001 policy, as the House voted to do last month — an effort Mr. Bush has promised to veto.

Forces on each side of the debate are gearing up for a raucous Senate fight over Mr. Bush’s 2001 stem cell policy, which allowed federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but applied it only to a limited number of embryonic stem-cell lines already in existence at that time.

Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, are among a group pushing hard for Senate leaders to bring up the House-passed bill, which expands the Bush policy to allow federally funded embryonic stem-cell research that uses leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics. The House passed that measure last month.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, last week said the Senate would take up the issue sometime in the next month, though he didn’t say which bills.

But Mr. Hatch said Mr. Frist will likely allow the House-passed bill to come to the floor. “He knows he has to bring it up, and I believe he will,” Mr. Hatch said this week, adding that supporters of the measure probably have enough votes to stop a potential filibuster attempt.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican and strong opponent of the effort, said he hasn’t ruled out trying to filibuster or block the House-passed bill, should it come up in the Senate. He told Senate leaders Thursday there will be “a very robust debate” in the Senate over it.

“I’m not ruling anything in or out,” Mr. Brownback said. “This is the central moral issue of our day.”

He and other opponents of the bill say human embryos should not be destroyed for medical research and that more promising research involving adult stem cells and blood taken from babies’ umbilical cords should be where government puts its focus.

But Mr. Hatch said the effort to expand Mr. Bush’s policy has a lot of support, both in the public and in the Senate.

“I don’t think a filibuster would hold up,” he said. “I think we should have enough votes — if it doesn’t become political.”

Proponents of expanded embryonic stem-cell research say it likely holds the key to curing any number of ailments, because embryonic stem cells have the potential to develop into virtually any type of body cell.

“It’s time to move forward,” said Laura Capps, spokeswoman for Mr. Kennedy. “Mr. Kennedy has been emphatic that we need to bring this bill to an immediate vote.”

Nancy Reagan, who watched her husband, President Ronald Reagan, die of Alzheimer’s disease, has been an outspoken advocate of expanded embryonic stem-cell research.

“This is a very important issue to her and I know she remains committed to the cause and will do what she can at the right time,” her spokeswoman, Joanne Drake, said in an interview Thursday.

Mrs. Reagan will likely be involved in the Senate fight, said Douglas Wick, the Hollywood producer who said he persuaded Mrs. Reagan to speak out on the issue. “Certainly when the Senate fight becomes clear, she will be involved again,” he said.

Opponents, however, say the promise of embryonic stem-cell research has been vastly overblown, while adult stem-cell research — currently being used to successfully treat numerous diseases — is ignored.

The root problem of the issue is that in order to extract the embryonic stem cells, a human embryo must be destroyed. But Mr. Frist this week said science is making advances in this area, which Congress must examine. Specifically, Mr. Frist mentioned the possibility of embryonic stem-cell research that does not require the destruction of embryos, as a potential way to avoid the ethical concerns.


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