Senate may vote soon on embryonic stem cell research

WASHINGTON (BP)--The United States Senate may vote before Memorial Day weekend on a bill to fund stem cell research that destroys embryos.

Although Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee rejected a request from 40 Democrats to hold a vote on the controversial measure during the week of May 8-12, it appears the delay on floor action may be brief, a congressional source said. The vote may occur before the Senate recesses May 29 to June 2, the source indicated.

If a vote takes place, the Senate is likely to pass a measure the House of Representatives approved last year despite a veto threat from President Bush. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 810, is designed to undermine the president’s policy, which prohibits federal funds for stem cell research that results in the destruction of human embryos. Bush’s rule allows federal funds for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence when his policy was announced in 2001. (Private funding for embryonic stem cell research is not prohibited under the Bush policy; the policy also allows federal funding for adult stem cell research.)

H.R. 810 would underwrite research that uses embryos left over at in vitro fertilization clinics. Last May, the House passed H.R. 810 in a 238-194 vote, far short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. The Senate, however, appears nearer to a two-thirds majority. Supporters in the Senate need 67 votes for an override.

As the Capitol Hill controversy continues about funding destructive stem cell research, Pennsylvania’s two Republican senators have endorsed a compromise measure despite being on different sides of the issue.

Sens. Arlen Specter, a supporter of funding embryonic research, and Rick Santorum, an opponent of such destructive experimentation, introduced May 5 the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act, S. 2754. The new legislation would provide funds for research on embryonic-like stem cells without creating or knowingly harming human embryos.

Recent studies on two methods that apparently would be covered by the bill have received support from some pro-lifers. One, known as reprogramming, shows promise of returning body cells to their embryonic-like qualities, thereby making them potentially more effective in treating diseases. Another, known as altered nuclear transfer (ANT), is a modification of cloning in which genes are switched off before the nucleus is placed in a fertilized egg. Reportedly, no embryo is created, but stem cells can be extracted from the resultant mass.

Some pro-life bioethicists are hopeful about these experiments but remain concerned about what exactly is created through ANT.

“We are all anxious to find ethical alternatives to embryo-destructive stem cell research,” said C. Ben Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago, Ill. “ANT has promise and is at least worth research in animal models. We should be most cautious before moving to human experimentation.”

Mitchell, a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press research “should proceed full speed ahead on adult stem cells. With as many as 70 therapeutic applications of adult stem cells already available and others in the pipeline, it would be ludicrous to create obstacles to the promise of adult stem cells.”

The ERLC and other pro-life organizations fervently oppose liberalizing the current federal policy because the extraction of stem cells from an embryo destroys the tiny human being. The ERLC and pro-life advocates support non-embryonic stem cell research.

Extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources –- such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow –- does not harm the donor and has produced treatments for such ailments as spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia. Embryonic research has yet to treat any diseases in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.


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