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Inside Politics

House passes embryonic stem cell bill

Separate GOP-backed measure on adult stem cells sails through


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House Majority Leader Tom DeLay supports a proposal focused on umbilical cord cell research.
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Stem cell research bill passes House but could face veto.
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Dana Reeve

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After impassioned debate, the House passed a controversial bill Tuesday that would expand public funding for embryonic stem cell research -- a measure President Bush threatened to veto last week.

The vote was 238-194, short of the two-thirds supermajority of 290 necessary to override a veto. The measure now goes to the Senate.

The House then overwhelmingly passed a Republican-backed proposal that would use federal money to study stem cells taken from adults and umbilical cord blood, instead of using human embryos.

The vote was 431-1. One Republican voted against the bill, which was supported by Bush.

The first bill passed would extend funding to research on embryonic stem cell lines that were nonexistent in 2001, when Bush limited funding to lines in existence at the time.

According to scientists, many if not all of the previous lines are now contaminated and unusable.

The biggest support for the bill came from Democrats, with 187 votes. Fifty Republicans also voted for the measure. Fourteen Democrats opposed the bill, along with 180 Republicans.

Stem cell research has been touted by scientists as a possible step toward finding cures for diseases and afflictions including Alzheimer's, cancer and paralysis.

Among its most vocal supporters is former first lady Nancy Reagan, whose husband, former President Ronald Reagan, died of Alzheimer's in June 2004.

Bush said Tuesday the bill "violates the clear standard I set four years ago."

"This bill would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life," the president said. "Crossing this line would be a great mistake."

Bush claims the research destroys life because embryos are destroyed in the process.

Supporters point out there are embryos in fertility clinics that would never be used to create babies, but could be used for research purposes.

Rep. Mike Castle, the Delaware Republican who introduced the bill, said it "draws a strict ethical line by only allowing federally funded research on stem cell lines that were derived ethically from donated embryos determined to be in excess."

Under the bill, couples who have undergone fertility treatments and have embryos they won't use can then make the choice of putting them up for adoption, giving them directly to another couple, storing them, discarding them or donating them to science, co-sponsor Rep. Diana DeGette said during debate.

"The only federal funds used under the Castle-DeGette bill are federal funds to then develop those embryonic stem cell lines" donated to science, the Colorado Democrat said.

The threatened veto would be the first of Bush's presidency. His stance is supported by Catholic leadership and social conservatives but has been rejected by some moderate Republicans.

DeLay: 'An embryo is a person'

Majority Leader Tom DeLay said before the vote it would be wrong for the government to finance "medical research predicated on the destruction of human embryos."

"An embryo is a person," the Texas Republican said.

"This bill tramples on the moral convictions of an awful lot of people who don't want their tax dollars to be spent for killing innocent human life," DeLay said.

At least one GOP member took issue with such a view.

"To reduce this issue to an abortion issue is a horrible injustice to 100 million Americans suffering the ravages of diabetes, spinal cord paralysis, heart disease, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, cancer, MS [multiple sclerosis], Lou Gehrig's disease and other fatal, debilitating diseases," said Rep. Jim Ramstad, a Minnesota Republican.

"What could be more pro-life than working for a cure for a loved one?" asked Rep. James Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat, another of the bill's 200 co-sponsors, who suffered a spinal cord injury at age 16 and cannot walk.

Bush held a news conference Tuesday surrounded by families who had either adopted or given up for adoption embryos remaining after fertility treatments.

"With the right policies and the right techniques, we can pursue scientific progress while still fulfilling our moral duties," Bush said. "The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo."

Supporters of the bill say only about 10 percent of excess embryos are adopted; the rest are discarded.

A poll released Monday shows Bush does not have the support of the majority of Americans when it comes to government funding of stem cell research.

Forty-two percent said the federal government should ease restrictions on funding research, and another 11 percent said there should be no restrictions, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of 1,006 Americans surveyed over the weekend.

Nineteen percent said there should be no funding of such research -- an increase from 14 percent in a poll conducted last year.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Alternative measure

During debate on the measure dealing with umbilical cord blood, opponents of the embryonic stem cell legislation pointed out repeatedly that while adult stem cells have been proved to cure and treat patients, embryonic stem cells have not.

Embryonic stem cell research is "a scientific exploration into the benefits of killing human beings," DeLay said.

But, said DeGette, "Frankly, they're good for different things, so let's not muddle the science."

She and other supporters of both bills argued the two should not be divided.

"Separating these two legislative initiatives would be like separating the flag from the Pledge of Allegiance," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat.

Embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells, the latter group including those taken from umbilical cord blood, have different functions and characteristics, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Embryonic stem cells can become all of the body's cell types, though research on them is still in its early stages, according to the NIH.

Adult stem cells are generally limited to differentiating into the cell types of their tissue of origin, potentially limiting their use in treatments.


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