- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

House lawmakers will vote today on whether to expand President Bush’s 2001 policy on federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research.

Mr. Bush has promised to veto the Republican-sponsored bill, and pro-life conservatives are advancing a separate measure — also up for a House vote today — that focuses on adult stem-cell research that uses bone marrow and umbilical cord blood instead of human embryos.

Both bills have bipartisan support and are expected by their backers to be approved by the House. But debate on the emotional issue that divides Republicans will no doubt be highly charged.

To the chagrin of many pro-life conservatives, House Republican leaders agreed earlier this year to give Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, and his allies a House vote on expanding Mr. Bush’s 2001 policy, which allowed federal funding for human embryonic-stem-cell research but limited it to a group of embryonic-stem-cell lines already in existence.

Mr. Castle’s bill — which faces a straight up-or-down vote today — would allow federal funds for embryonic-stem-cell research that uses human embryos left over from in vitro fertilization clinics. Advocates hope that in the future, such cells will produce treatments for many ailments, because they can develop into any type of body cell.

Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette, the lead Democrat on Mr. Castle’s bill, said public opinion is on the bill backers’ side, so ?if it’s not law this year, it’s going to be law soon.?

House members today will first consider the alternative bill, crafted by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, that would provide federal dollars for research and treatments that avoid human embryos and instead use stem cells from bone marrow and from umbilical cord blood — which have been used to treat leukemia and sickle-cell-anemia patients.

?One of the best-kept secrets in America today is that umbilical cord blood stem cells and adult stem cells are curing people of a myriad of terrible conditions and diseases,? said Mr. Smith, who opposes Mr. Castle’s bill because human embryos are destroyed when stem cells are extracted.

Many lawmakers, including Mr. Castle, are expected to vote for both bills. But for conservative pro-life members who strongly oppose Mr. Castle’s bill, Mr. Smith’s measure will be a key opportunity to get out the message that they do support stem-cell research that has been successful without using embryos.

Mr. Castle and his allies say that their bill will pass today, despite the veto threat and Mr. Smith’s alternative bill, and that chances are good in the Senate, too. Mr. Castle admits that he doesn’t have the votes needed to override a presidential veto, but said if the bill passes both chambers and pressure continues to build, ?maybe we can sit down with the White House and negotiate? a new policy.

Mr. Smith’s bill would reauthorize the national bone-marrow program and establish a new funding stream and national database for collecting blood from umbilical cords and placentas, normally discarded. Only 40 cord blood banks exist, but Mr. Smith’s bill aims to dramatically increase the number so treatment will be available to anyone who needs it.

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