On 20 June 2007 President Bush vetoed the most recent legislation passed by Congress to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. If signed into law, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 (S. 5) would have authorized the use of federal funds for research on human embryonic stem cell lines derived from surplus embryos at in-vitro fertilization clinics.

Said President Bush of the vetoed legislation: “It would compel American taxpayers – for the first time in our history – to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos. I made it clear to Congress and the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line.”

Currently, federal funds only support research using embryonic stem cell lines created before 9 August 2001, the date that Bush signed an Executive Order establishing this policy.

On the same day Bush vetoed S. 5, he issued Executive Order 13435 encouraging federal agencies to support research on stem cells that does not involve the destruction of human embryos, and to rename the “Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry” the “Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Registry.” Critics and some advocacy groups have charged that the latest Executive Order is meaningless because scientists who study non-embryonic stem cells already have access to federal funding for research.

Although S. 5 passed both the Senate and House with votes of 63-34 and 247-176 respectively, neither chamber is expected to round up the two-thirds majority necessary to overturn the President’s veto. However, two stem cell supporters in the Senate, Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), sponsored a provision in the 2008 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bill to make more embryonic stem cell lines available for federally funded research. The measure would extend the 9 August 2001 deadline President Bush set in his first Executive Order to 15 June 2007. According to Senator Harkin, this would increase the number of embryonic cell lines eligible for federal funding from the six currently viable to 400. The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill passed the full Senate Appropriations Committee 26-3 on 21 June and will now head to the floor for full consideration by the Senate.

Despite difficulties advancing at the federal level, financial support for embryonic stem cell research continues to remain a priority in a number of individual states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey. The day after President Bush vetoed S. 5, the New Jersey legislature approved a bill that would allow the state to borrow $450 million over 10 years to support stem cell research. The measure, which comes in addition to the $270 million the state has already approved to build stem cell research facilities, will go before New Jersey voters this November.

 


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