April 16, 2024


Although the US Senate has passed a bill loosening restrictions on embryonic stem cell research by a vote of 63 to 37, President Bush is sure block it with the first veto of his five and a half years in office. Currently, federal funding is only available for selected stem cell lines created from "spare" IVF embryos created before August 9, 2001. Since the 63 "yes" votes are four short of the number required to override his veto, the measure has been killed — at least for the time being.

Not all Republicans in Congress have linked arms with the President on this emotional issue. On the one hand, Senator Sam Brownback, of Kansas, says "It’s a very clear issue to the pro-life community. Is the youngest human a person or a piece of property?" On the other, Republican Senator Gordon H. Smith, of Oregon, pleaded that embryonic stem cells could cure Parkinson’s disease. "To watch people die of such a malady is to instil in one’s heart a desire to err on the side of health, hope and healing, to find a cure if a cure can be found," he said.

Confusingly, the Senate majority leader, Republican Bill Frist, of Tennessee, declared that he is both staunchly "pro-life" and a supporter of using spare IVF embryos for research. Still, Frist, liberal" as he may seem in the US, would be described as a hide- bound conservative in the UK or Australia for his abhorrence of therapeutic cloning. is that "The purposeful development of a human embryo – the manufacture of human life – for experimentation and its ultimate destruction is morally reprehensible. It offends the conscience, degrades the value of human life, and isn’t medically necessary."

Two other bills passed unanimously, one banning foetal farming and the other promoting the search for pluripotent stem cells from sources other than embryos. The President will probably sign these, allowing him and his supporters to claim that they do support stem cell research.

A certain sense of realism may be emerging in the debate. Although most newspaper stories have highlighted "hope for curing crippling diseases", they sometimes allude to the decades of research which will be needed to achieve the cures. On the other hand, as Business Week points out, there are tantalising short-term applications, such as creating cells for drug testing by the pharmaceutical industry.