Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A bipartisan group of senators yesterday urged President Bush to reconsider his position on embryonic-stem-cell research and rescind his threat to veto a bill that would expand federal funding for such research.

“The bill passed the House by a big margin, and I think if publicized further, that margin will grow to override a veto,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican. “Last year, we had a letter signed by about 58 senators and about 20 more in the wings, so I think if it really comes down to a showdown we will have enough votes in the Senate to override a veto.”

The House passed a bill Tuesday to ease restrictions on federal funding for research using stem cells taken from human embryos, 238-194. But 50 more votes are needed to buck a presidential veto.

The bill — co-sponsored by Reps. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, and Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat — calls for nearly 400,000 human embryos currently in cold storage to be used in government-funded experimentation. The proposal also creates a national inventory for stem cells derived from umbilical-cord blood, reauthorizes the national bone-marrow registry and codifies a number of ethical standards for embryonic-stem-cell use.

Mr. Specter was joined in a press conference yesterday by Republican Sens. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, as well as Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Mr. Bush responded to the senators’ statements later in the day.

“I have made my position very clear on that issue. I believe that the use of federal monies that end up destroying life … is not positive, is not good. And so, therefore, I’m against the extension of the research, of using more federal dollars on new embryonic-stem-cell lines,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Specter said the president’s argument is “factually incorrect.”

“Embryonic stem cells are not being destroyed to save lives. Embryonic stem cells will be destroyed whether they are used to save lives or not,” he said.

It is a “plain fact,” Mr. Hatch said, that thousands of unused embryos, produced for in vitro fertilization treatments are discarded each year. He said associating such research with abortion is a flawed argument.

“Human life does not begin in a petri dish, and I know there is room to be anti-abortion and pro-embryonic-stem-cell research,” he said.

Mr. Hatch noted that Congress ran into similar opposition more than 20 years ago when it legalized in vitro fertilization, then a new procedure condemned by many pro-life activists.

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