Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The House yesterday passed a bill to ease restrictions on human-embryonic-stem-cell research, but it did not gain enough votes to overcome a promised 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 for experimentation.

The proposal also creates a national inventory for stem cells derived from umbilical-cord blood and reauthorizes the national bone-marrow registry. The legislation passed 238-194, but supporters would need a two-thirds majority to override a veto.

“This research is already going on at the state level — and to some degree at the federal level, and 110 million people will benefit from this research,” Mr. Castle said.

But President Bush yesterday vowed to cast his first veto should the legislation make it out of the Senate.

“This bill would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life. Crossing this line would be a great mistake,” the president said in an East Room speech, attended by about 100 people, including 21 children who were adopted as embryos frozen in fertility clinics.

Although he set policy in 2001 that allowed federal funding for stem-cell research using the 78 stem-cell lines that existed then, Mr. Bush yesterday reiterated his stance that the federal government should not “use public money to support the further destruction of human life.” Mr. Bush said that seeking cures to diseases comes at a high price if embryos were used.

“In the complex debate over embryonic-stem-cell research, we must remember that real human lives are involved — both the lives of those with diseases that might find cures from this research and the lives of the embryos that will be destroyed in the process,” Mr. Bush said.

House opponents added that the bill will only open a Pandora’s box that could lead down the road to human cloning — for a science that has yet to yield any calculable results. There was clearly no partisan line on the debate or the vote as both Democrats and Republicans were split on the issue, but proponents had the advantage.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, took a rare position as one of the floor managers in an effort to bolster the opposition and prevent one of the most clear efforts by the House to buck the president’s wishes.

“The issue of human cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research cuts to the very core of politics,” Mr. DeLay said. “The best one can say about embryonic research is it is the scientific exploration into the benefit of killing human beings in an attempt to justify the unfortunate price it will cost — kill some in hopes of saving others.”

He said arguments from Mrs. DeGette that it does not call for “embryo destruction” were ridiculous.

Opposing Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, were equally concerned about the ends-justifying-the-means approach.

“We as a nation believe there is an ethical line that should not be crossed and that human life even at the embryonic stage should not be subject to manipulation,” Mr. Stupak said.

Centrist Republicans led by Mr. Castle and Democrats led by Mrs. DeGette said they hope the president will accept the will of Congress, because the bill is likely to pass unscathed through the conference negotiation process with the Senate.

The House yesterday also passed on a 431-1 vote a bill to facilitate research on stem cells from umbilical-cord blood and from adults. That bill allows federal dollars to be spent to collect cord-blood stem cells from the placenta and umbilical cord after birth, proven research that has been used to successfully treat 67 diseases.

Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, was the lone dissenter.

Rep. Jim Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat, the first quadriplegic to be elected to the House, said the embryonic research could help find a cure for his condition, a fact he said should not be ignored.

“We have a responsibility to ensure this research proceeds and with the ethical safeguards and guidelines, and H.R. 810 meets this responsibility,” Mr. Langevin said.

• Joseph Curl contributed to this report.

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