- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Senate last night reached an agreement that paves the way for the chamber to vote on House-passed legislation to allow federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells beyond what President Bush permitted under a 2001 order.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, finally got all senators to agree to vote on three research-related bills. The lead measure is a bill, passed by the House last year, that would allow federal funding of stem-cell research that uses embryos left over from fertility clinics. Sponsors expect a bipartisan victory in the Senate as well, probably next month.

“We’ve been working a long time,” Mr. Frist said in announcing the agreement last night.

Mr. Bush’s 2001 stem-cell policy allowed federal funding to go to embryonic stem-cell research but limited it to a certain number of embryonic stem-cell lines already created at the time. Since then, Democrats, some Republicans and scientists have pushed to expand federal subsidies of the research, which is opposed by pro-life forces in Congress and religious conservatives.

Mr. Bush has threatened to veto the House-passed bill, a stance reiterated last night by White House spokesman Ken Lisaius.

Mr. Frist, who supports it, said that in 2001, it was thought that the Bush policy would apply to 78 stem-cell lines, but it ended up only applying to 22. He said the policy needs an “update” but stressed that the research must only be done within a system of “strict safeguards.”

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to develop into virtually any cell in the body, and proponents argue this quality makes them useful in potentially treating a vast number of injuries and ailments.

The research requires the embryos to be destroyed however, and opponents of the bill, including many conservatives and religious groups, argue that human life shouldn’t be destroyed for research purposes, no matter how noble. They also point out that adult stem cells have proven successful in treating a broad range of ailments.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said yesterday that the passage of the embryonic stem-cell research bill is “going to give Nancy Reagan, and people like her, comfort.”

Former President Ronald Reagan died after suffering many years with Alzheimer’s disease. Mrs. Reagan has been an avid supporter of embryonic stem-cell research.

Mr. Reid congratulated Mr. Frist on the agreement, admitting, “This hasn’t been easy.”

The Senate will also vote on two other bills. One would bar embryos from being implanted into a woman’s womb in order to harvest cells or tissue, and the second would encourage alternative research on stem cells that would not involve destroying an embryo.

Under the agreement, all three bills would have to garner 60 votes in order to pass. Mr. Frist said the votes would occur soon, although he didn’t specify a date or deadline.

The article is based in part on wire service reports.

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