Stem cell research holds promise in next administration
The House has approved a bill that would increase federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
ALTHOUGH Democrats have gained control of the U.S. House, their attempt to muster enough votes for a veto-proof bill to expand embryonic stem cell research has fallen woefully short. Proponents will need to wait two years, when a new president from either party is likely to sign such legislation into law.
The House this week passed a bill that would provide federal funding for research by a vote of 253-174, a 15-vote improvement over the vote two years ago but 37 votes short of the 290 needed to override a certain veto by President Bush. The White House issued a position paper asserting that adult stem cells may be reprogrammed to function like embryonic cells and citing a new study finding the presence of stem cells in amniotic fluid, which cushions babies in the womb.
The contention that adult stem cells can be as useful as embryonic stem cells has been repudiated by scientists because they are difficult to isolate and multiply. The research showing that stem cells extracted from amniotic fluid can be effective has yet to be accepted, and it may be turned into only a few of the more than 200 cell types that comprise the human body.
As next year's presidential election nears, all declared and potential Democratic candidates are on record supporting embryonic stem-cell research. To the dismay of social conservatives, so are the three Republican front-runners -- Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who promised in his 2002 campaign to "work and fight" for such research.
Bush signed an executive order in 2001 allowing federal funding for 60 existing stem-cell lines, but only 21 of the lines have been available for research, and he cast his first veto last year against increased funding of stem cell research. Scientists say they need 300 newer lines. In the meantime, they have had to rely on private donations and state expenditures for such research. A $3 billion bond measure in California to finance stem cell research has been slowed down by lawsuits.
Proponents of the House bill expected to come up short of a veto-proof vote. Although Democrats gained control of the House, some of last session's Republicans have been replaced by Democratic opponents of stem-cell research. Among the Republicans defeated in last year's election were moderates who favored such research.
Families trying to deal with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's diseases, heart problems, spinal cord injuries, juvenile diabetes and other ailments must be patient in awaiting political opportunities to revive funding of research with the use of embryos that otherwise will be thrown away.
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