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House votes to lift stem-cell ban but Bush veto certain
NJ The Star-Ledger
BY ROBERT COHEN
STAR-LEDGER WASHINGTON BUREAU
January 12, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The House yesterday again voted to lift restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, sending the measure to the Senate and laying the groundwork for a second veto from a president who objects on moral grounds.

The 253-174 vote came after an emotional debate in which proponents argued that President Bush's policy is hindering the search for cures to spinal cord injuries and diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Opponents said the use of stem cells taken from human embryos amounts to the taking of human life.

The victory for the Democrats was largely symbolic since the vote was well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a Bush veto. But with polls showing 70 percent public support for the science, the Democrats used their new House majority status to push the issue to the top of the agenda.

An undeterred White House restated Bush's veto promise prior to the vote, saying the measure "would use federal taxpayer dollars to support and encourage the destruction of human life for research."

The Senate is expected to take up and pass the legislation in a matter of weeks, but also is likely to fall short of the votes needed to override a veto. Both the House and Senate approved the same stem cell bill last year, and Bush stopped it with his first and only veto in July.

During the three-hour debate, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the bill's sponsor, said Bush's policy amounts to a "crippling ban on life-saving research" that "holds promise" for millions of suffering Americans.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.), another supporter, accused Bush of "catering to the fringe of his party" in pursuing "a misguided policy."

"Each day we wait to lift the ban is another day we waste in discovering new cures," said Pallone.

But opponents argued that the taxpayers should not subsidize embryonic research when other stem cell alternatives are available.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said recent studies have suggested that nonembryonic stem cells found in bone marrow, umbilical cords and other tissues, as well as stem cells from amniotic fluid, also hold significant promise.

 "The issue before us is not whether taxpayer dollars should subsidize stem cell research," said Boehner. "The question is whether taxpayer dollars should be used to subsidize stem cell research that requires the destruction of precious human life."

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-4th Dist.) made the same point, saying the use of embryonic stem cells is "unethical."

"Where this all take us will be the demise, the destruction of millions of human embryos," said Smith. "We on the pro-life side strongly support stem cell research as long as it does not require killing human embryos."

New Jersey's seven Democratic congressmen and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) voted for the measure. The state's five other Republicans voted against it.

In August 2001, Bush issued an executive order saying federal funds could be used for research on embryonic stem cell lines only if they were already in existence at that time, kept alive and propagating in lab dishes. Bush said this would prevent destruction of new embryos. Scientists have found the policy restrictive, with only about 21 stem cell lines available for federally funded research.

The new legislation would allow the National Institutes of Health to fund research using newer stem cell lines from embryos donated for in-vitro fertilization that are considered surplus and would otherwise be discarded. The bill would require donors to provide written consent for use of the embryos, which are now stored at fertility clinics, and would ban the sale of embryos.

A number of states, including New Jersey, have been trying to move ahead on their own with embryonic stem cell research, but are constrained by restrictions on federal aid.

Last month, Gov. Jon Corzine signed into law a bill providing $270 million for five stem cell research facilities in the state, including $150 million for an institute at Rutgers University in New Brunswick be named for Christopher Reeve, the late actor who was paralyzed in a riding accident and brought attention to stem cells. The money will be raised through the sale of bonds, with creation of the research centers expected to take a number of years.

Leading medical, scientific groups and patient-advocacy groups, including the Christopher Reeve Foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, had backed the stem cell legislation. But anti-abortion groups and religious conservatives have been among the biggest critics.

Kathy Lewis, president of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, said the federal restrictions are "discouraging."

"We don't know what will work, but scientists should have unfettered access to all research," said Lewis.

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