By LAWRENCE M. O'ROURKE
May 25, 2005
The Republican-controlled House approved the measure 238-194 despite President Bush's promise to cast the first veto of his more than 52 months in the White House against the legislation.
Some 187 Democrats, 50 Republicans and one independent voted for expansion of a small government program run by the National Institutes of Health. The legislation does not specify the amount of federal money to be spent on the research.
In 2001, the president authorized the use of 78 existing embryonic stem cell lines for research. Scientists say that many of those lines cannot be used in humans because they are contaminated.
The House legislation would lift that restriction and give NIH a major role in developing and regulating embryonic stem cell research in the United States. Sponsors of the legislation said there are 400,000 frozen embryos remaining after in vitro fertilization that could be used in medical research.
At the White House Tuesday, Bush expressed his opposition to the legislation by appearing with 21 families that either adopted or gave up for adoption frozen embryos that remained after fertility treatments.
"Twenty-one children here today found a chance for life in all its stages," the president told an audience that included many active and noisy youngsters.
"Research on stem cells derived from human embryos may offer great promise," Bush said. "But the way those cells are claimed today destroys the embryo."
"The children here today remind us there is no such thing as a spare embryo," he said. "Every embryo is unique and genetically complete, like every other human being."
Some 180 Republicans and 14 Democrats voted against expansion of the government's role in embryonic stem cell research.
The 238 votes for the embryonic stem cell bill were short of the 290 votes required to override a presidential veto. The Senate could act later this year on similar legislation.
In addition to approving the embryonic stem cell legislation, the House voted 431-1 for a bill backed by Bush that would provide government financial support for research using cells and blood drawn from umbilical cords, known as adult stem cell research.
House members in favor of restricting federal government support to research of adult stem cells said it has already led to treatment for blood disorders and other diseases.
Advocates of the embryonic stem cell legislation, led by Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said that research on embryonic stem cells holds the promise of breakthroughs that could provide relief or cures for diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer and spinal cord and other nerve injuries.
But opponents of the embryonic research, led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the legislation would allow the government to use tax money from Americans who oppose abortion to support research that would end human life on the principle of saving it.
"This legislation would allow embryo destruction in the name of progress," DeLay said. "It would kill some in hopes of saving others."
Declaring that "an embryo is a person," DeLay said that sponsors of embryonic stem cell research hold a "utilitarian view of human life."
Embryos are "tiny microscopic human life," said Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill. He said it was "the first time in U.S. history that taxpayers' dollars would be used to kill innocent human life."
Advocates of embryonic research said that the cells that would be used in the laboratories would be taken from frozen embryos no more than 14 days old that would otherwise be destroyed.
They said the government, if it got involved, would develop ethics rules for research that is already going on with private funds in the United States and around the world.
In California, for example, voters have approved $3 billion for private stem cell research. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said California would become "the regenerative capital of America, if not the world."
The House debate took on an emotional tone because many members relied on personal experience in explaining why they voted for or against the legislation.
Several members said they had compiled long records as anti-abortion, pro-life legislators, but saw this as a different issue.
One legislator who said he had a pro-life record, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said he supported embryonic stem cell research because it might lead to a cure for diabetes that claimed the lives of his father, brother and grandchild.
However, Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., said he too had family members who might benefit from medical breakthroughs from embryonic stem cell research, but that he could not support such legislation because it would cause the destruction of the embryo.
"I resolve the doubt in favor of life," Lungren said.
Castle said that the legislation would use embryos that were originally created by an egg and sperm for in vitro fertilization.
This treatment, he pointed out, often creates embryos that will not be implanted in a woman and will be discarded. The couples who provided the egg and sperm would be required to give written consent and could not be offered "financial inducement" for providing the embryos to researchers, Castle said.
Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., said the legislation would lead the United States toward cloning human beings for the purpose of creating research embryos.
But Castle said federal legislation would ban human cloning.
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