Stem-cell research must await new president
President Bush has vetoed a bill that would have expanded federal financing of medical research using embryonic stem cells.
PRESIDENT Bush's veto of a bill that would have expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research will continue restrictions that have stifled important advances in medical treatment. States, companies and private philanthropies will have to carry the load in conducting this valuable research on their own.
The president stated his position in August 2001 in his first prime-time address to the nation, a month before the nation's attention was diverted to terrorism. He has been unwavering since then in his religious view that embryos are human beings, and that destruction of an embryo is tantamount to murder.
The executive order that Bush signed at that time seemed to be a compromise, allowing federal funding for 60 existing stem-cell lines. Soon afterward, it became apparent that only about 20 colonies were available for medical research, and some of those have developed genetic abnormalities that have rendered them impractical for research.
Fifty Republicans joined nearly all the Democrats in the House to approve stem cell legislation in May 2005 by a vote of 238 to 194, but that is 50 votes short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto. The Senate's 63 votes in favor of the measure this week were enough to surpass a filibuster but not to override a veto.
Those numbers turned into an election-year debate between the moderate and evangelical wings of the Republican Party. The margin in the House vote makes it unlikely that federal funding of stem-cell research will be considered again through the remainder of the Bush presidency.
The bill would not have financed research using new stem cell lines from embryos that could have grown into human lives. Instead, the microscopic embryos that Bush claims to have saved from murder will continue to be destined for trash cans in fertility clinics. The president's veto will be felt by families trying to deal with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's diseases, heart problems, spinal cord injuries, juvenile diabetes and other ailments.
Impeded by the restrictions, scientists have relied on private donations and state expenditures to further their research. California approved a $3 billion bond measure two years ago to finance stem-cell research but the money has been blocked by litigation.
Some scientists who object to embryonic cell research for the same reason that Bush opposes it claim that adult stem cells can be as useful, but that contention is roundly repudiated in the scientific world. Adult stem cells are difficult to isolate and multiply. Research using embryonic cells offers the best hope, but expanding that study with federal help will have to wait for another administration.
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