- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

The Bush administration said yesterday that the president will veto a bill to have the federal government fund more embryonic stem-cell research, issuing its statement on the day the Senate began debate on the bill and setting up the first major veto confrontation of this presidency.

“Destroying nascent human life for research raises serious ethical problems, and many millions of Americans consider the practice immoral,” the White House said in its official statement of policy on the bill.

The Senate is expected today to approve the bill, which would allow federal funding to go to research that uses embryos left over from fertility procedures. The Senate also is expected to approve two other research bills, one that would encourage stem-cell research methods that don’t harm embryos and the other that would make it illegal to initiate and then abort human pregnancies in women or animals to obtain research tissue.

The administration strongly supports the two other bills but said additional federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research is unnecessary because the private sector and some states are contributing several billion dollars over the next few years for such studies.

The Senate debate yesterday showed divisions among Republicans over the question of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. The bill has the support of top Republicans such as Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, but conservatives such as Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Sam Brownback of Kansas said embryonic stem-cell research wrongly and unnecessarily destroys human life.

Mr. Frist said yesterday it is time to expand Mr. Bush’s 2001 policy, which allowed federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research but limited it to stem-cell lines available at that time.

“I believe it should be modified,” said Mr. Frist, who is a doctor and has been mentioned as a presidential hopeful in 2008. He said the Bush policy “unduly restricts” the number of stem-cell lines. The policy covers 22 lines, although it initially was thought that 78 lines would be usable.

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to develop into almost any cell in the body. Proponents of the research see great potential to cure a host of ailments.

“Rejecting [the bill] is a rejection of science. It’s a rejection of the hopes of millions of patients,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat.

Conservatives note that embryos must be destroyed in order to extract their stem cells. Mr. Brownback calls it immoral to use the embryos as “raw material,” when they instead could be available for adoption to childless couples, as some have been.

Opponents of embryonic stem-cell research say the promise has been exaggerated and that federal funding instead should go toward effective medical treatments derived from adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood.

“There is not one cure in this country today from embryonic stem cells,” said Mr. Coburn, a physician, but treatments for eye problems and illnesses such as juvenile diabetes have been derived from adult stem cells and cord blood.

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