Ignoring a veto threat, the US House of Representatives moved today towards approving a Bill loosening President George Bush’s restrictions on stem cell research, with supporters claiming prospects were enhanced by promises that such research would offer new treatments for a host of debilitating ailments.
The floor debate was framed in starkly emotional terms, particularly by opponents of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research who liken the process to abortion because human embryos would be destroyed.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said that using leftover embryos from fertility clinics amounts to the ”dismemberment of living, distinct human beings” because the embryos are destroyed during the research. Conservatives offered an alternative measure to encourage research using stem cells from umbilical cords.
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research tried to cast the debate in terms of the possible medical cures that could come from it.
“For America to stand back because of a moral principle and not allow sound scientific research to proceed under the umbrella of the National Institute of Health, I think, is unconscionable,” said Rep Charlie Bas.
The Bill would lift Bush’s 2001 ban on funding research using stem cells from embryos harvested since 21001.
DeLay called the debate “a necessary and important step in our national conversation about the kind of people we will be, in a world of ever more promising and ever more unnerving medical technology”.
He equated reducing the funding restrictions imposed by Bush to a “vote to fund with taxpayer dollars the dismemberment of living, distinct human beings for the purposes of medical experimentation”.
Sponsors predicted the Bill would garner the 218 votes needed to pass but fall short of the 290 votes needed to sustain a presidential veto. One sponsor acknowledged the difficult choice facing lawmakers.
“This is not an easy vote for many Republicans … and some Democrats, too, because you have pro-life and other arguments,” said Rep Mike Castle. “There’s a lot of tide against them voting for it.”
Expecting House passage of that Bill, is Senate sponsors, Arlen Specter and Tom Harkin were drafting a letter to House Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee urging quick passage in that chamber.
In the House, DeLay urged passage of a second bill, sponsored by Reps Chris Smith and Artur Davis, which would provide €62.5m in federal money to increase the amount of umbilical cord blood for stem cell research and treatment and establish a national database for patients looking for matches.
Many lawmakers said they planned to vote for both stem cell research bills.