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Embryonic Stem Cell Research What Happens
Next? | Valerie Schmalz | August 2, 2005
Popular adult stem legislation could remain in limbo through the end of
this year, held hostage to U.S. Senate conflicts over embryonic stem cell
research and human cloning that reflect an acrimonious national debate.
The U.S. Senate adjourned for its August recess without voting on a set
of six bills covering cloning, adult, and embryonic stem cell research.
When it returns on September 6, U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings
for Judge John Roberts will take center stage. Thus, with many in the
Senate wishing the whole stem cell issue will go away, theres a
chance there will not be a vote at all this year. (See Cloning
and Stem Cell Bills Set To Be Up For Senate Debate", IgnatiusInsight.com,
July 16, 2005.)
Republican Majority Leader Bill Frists announcement this past Friday
that he would support a House bill H.R.810 expanding embryonic stem cell
research to use "left over" in-vitro fertilization embryos damaged
the pro-life cause, although the extent of the damage is hard to estimate.
However, some Senate aides have said that Frists decision does not
change the Senate playing field much, perhaps adding another couple of
votes but not creating a veto-proof majority. President George Bush has
promised to veto the bill.
"Embryonic stem-cell research should be encouraged and supported,"
Frist said on the Senate floor Friday. However, "it should advance
in a manner that affords all human life dignity and respect, the same
dignity and respect we bring to the table as we work with children and
adults to advance the frontiers of medicine and health."
Leading ESC and human cloning opponent Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, immediately
responded. "While Senator Frist acknowledged that human embryos are
nascent human life," Brownback stated, "he never addressed the
most important question: how does one treat human life? Is the young human
embryo a person or a piece of property? It is one or the other."
Sen. Rick Santorum, a member of the Republican leadership who had been
working with Frist to bring the package of six stem cell bills to the
Senate floor for a vote, told reporters on Friday he was "disappointed
in Sen. Frists change in position."
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-PA, expressed hope that Frists public change
of heart on the bill means Frist will bring H.R. 810 to the Senate floor
for a vote. Specter said it might even soften President Bushs opposition.
However, Frist said he had "ethical" problems with the bills
language and would require changes.
On Friday, Brownback urged Frist to schedule a vote: "The American
public deserves to have a thorough debate on this subject in the Senate.
We must address the legal status of the young human embryo."
H.R. 810 would significantly loosen federal funding restrictions adopted
by President Bush in 2001 by allowing federal funding for research using
IVF embryos. There are an estimated 400,000 frozen embryos held by fertility
clinics. Bush's policy bars federal funding of research that would
require killing human embryos but allows the use of embryonic stem cell
lines created before 2001. Bushs federal funding restrictions have
prompted several states, including California and New Jersey, to institute
their own funding of embryonic stem cell research and human cloning. Bushs
stance has drawn the ire of many scientists and celebrities, including
Nancy Reagan and actor Michael J. Fox, who have trumpeted the possibilities
of "miracle cures" from the cells.
Private investment in ESC research is miniscule because no cures have
been discovered, therefore many scientists are eager to obtain government
funds. Adult stem cells are being used in dozens of treatments of conditions
ranging from paralysis to diabetes to sickle cell anemia and leukemia.
The Senates adjournment without an agreement on the stem cell bills
marked a change in expectations from mid-July, when some in the Senate
were predicting a vote by months end. The negotiations center on
three key bills.
H.R. 810, which would allow federal research funds for experiments
using "discarded" frozen IVF embryos. It is expected to pass
handily but to be vetoed by President Bush. It passed the House of Representatives
238-194 on May 24th, with a number of Republicans, including
some generally reliable pro-life votes, joining the majority.
The Cord Blood Stem Cell Act, an adult stem cell bill to subsidize
cord blood banks, which was passed by the House 431-1 and is a sure bet
to pass the Senate and be signed by President Bush. Stem cells taken from
cord blood are being used particularly to treat blood disorders, including
sickle cell anemia and leukemia.
S 658 which would prohibit human cloning in the U.S. This
bill creates a dilemma for senators who do not want to be seen as supporting
human cloning. However, many support embryonic stem cell research, which,
in an open secret, is largely based not on "left-over" IVF babies
but on cloned embryos.
Other bills on the table, including a proposal to fund research into finding
or creating ethical forms of human pluripotent stem cells without killing
embryos are hostage to the struggle over these three bills. (See Does
Pro-Life Cloning Exist? The Debate Rages On", IgnatiusInsight.com,
June 16, 2005.)
Even though bio-tech interests in California and elsewhere strongly oppose a ban on
human cloning, those senators who support embryonic stem cell research will
find it difficult to take a public stand in favor of human cloning since
polls consistently show a majority opposed to human cloning. The country
is more evenly divided on the use of embryonic stem cells taken from IVF
embryos. Thus, there has been no vote on the human cloning ban since 1998,
even though the House passed the bill and sent it to the Senate twice.
Cloning supporters have come up with an alternative bill that could provide
political cover for those senators who support embryonic stem cell research
and human cloning for research. Sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-CA,
and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, it would allow therapeutic cloning cloning
humans solely for experimentation but would ban human reproductive
Those who support the Brownback bill banning all forms of human cloning
say they will block bringing that bill to the floor for a vote at the
same time and will not sign off on any agreement that would include that
bill in the package. That is one roadblock to a deal between Democrats
and Republicans and within the Republican Senate majority, which is divided
on this issue.
Meanwhile, some Senate staffers say that some pro-ESC senators are holding
the Cord Blood Act hostage to getting H.R. 810 to the Senate for a vote.
Others say few Senate Republicans want to vote on H.R. 810, because it
remains a very controversial issue.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com articles:
Pro-Life Cloning Exist? The Debate Rages On | Valerie Schmalz |
June 16, 2005
and Stem Cell Bills Set To Be Up For Senate Debate | Valerie Schmalz
| July 16, 2005
Stem Cells: Definitions of Key Terms | Valerie Schmalz | July 16,
Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a
reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast
media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San
Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at
Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco.
Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.
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