President Bush yesterday vetoed his third bill in nearly seven years, rejecting legislation that would have allowed federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research, which requires the destruction of human lives at their earliest stage.
The president bolstered other avenues for research, including the use of adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood.
His veto does not prevent private researchers from destroying embryos to harvest “pluripotent” cells.
In a White House ceremony, the president said he would not force American taxpayers who believe in the “sanctity of human life” to pay for such research.
“I made it clear to Congress and to the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line. Last year, Congress passed a similar bill; I kept my promise by vetoing it. And today I’m keeping my word again: I am vetoing the bill that Congress has sent,” Mr. Bush said to loud and lengthy applause from a crowd of invited guests in the White House East Room.
“Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical, and it is not the only option before us,” he said. “We’re already seeing remarkable advances in the science and therapeutic uses of stem cells drawn from adults and children, and the blood from umbilical cords, with no harm to the donor.”
Democrats criticized the veto.
“This is just one example of how the president puts ideology before science, politics before the needs of our families, just one more example of how out of touch with reality he and his party have become,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“He insists upon putting the politics of his narrow ideology ahead of saving lives,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said: “Bush once again put political posturing ahead of sound science.”
Mr. Reid said he would schedule an override vote “very, very quickly,” but he is unlikely to find the two-thirds support required. The Senate passed the bill by a 63-34 vote.
Human pluripotent stem cells are microscopic cells that can be harvested from embryos or fetal tissue. Such cells develop into the specialized cells that form muscle, nerves, blood and eventually almost all human body parts. Although embryonic stem cells are considered the most versatile of the pluripotent stem cells, researchers think adult stem cells, or those harvested from umbilical cord blood, placentas and amniotic fluid could be just as adaptable.
Democrats argue that only embryonic stem cells have the capability to end diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s and dismiss scientific assertions that other stems cells are just as pluripotent.
Polls show that most Americans support stem-cell research, but a majority of Americans also oppose the destruction of embryos in the research. A poll commissioned last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops showed that 48 percent of more than 1,000 people surveyed oppose research that requires destroying embryos, while 39 percent support it.
On stage with the president yesterday was Kaitlyne McNamara, 18, of Middletown, Conn., who was born with spina bifida, a disease that damaged her bladder. The president said that after all treatments failed, “her doctors took a piece of her bladder, isolated the healthy stem cells and used them to grow a new bladder in a laboratory which they then transplanted into her.”
“Scientific advances like this one are important and should give us hope that there’s a better way forward than scientific advances that require the destruction of a human life,” Mr. Bush said.
In 2001, Mr. Bush announced that federal funding would be allowed for research that used only the existing cells from 78 “lines,” which were derived by killing embryos. He said yesterday that his administration has made more than $130 million available for research on stem-cell lines derived from embryos that already had been destroyed.