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House Approves Stem Cell Bill; Senators Call for Action

Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, according to the Associated Press said, ”The American people cannot afford to wait any longer for our top scientists to realize the full potential of stem cell research.”

On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House approved the embryonic stem cell legislation, sponsored by Reps. Michael Castle, R-Del., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., by a 238-194 vote, with a group of 50 Republicans in favor of it.

Still, the vote fell far short of the two-thirds majority required to override a veto from President Bush, who last week promised to veto any measure that would roll back the limits on embryonic stem-cell research.

In 2001, Mr. Bush limited federal funding to research on stem cell lines existing at the time because creating new ones involves the destruction of human embryos. The House bill and its Senate companion would loosen that restriction. Privately funded companies may conduct the research.

President Bush on Tuesday called the bill “a mistake,” saying the House vote raised “grave moral issues.”

“This bill would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life,” President Bush said Tuesday. “Crossing this line would be a great mistake.”

After the House vote, three Democratic and three Republican senators wrote Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., asking for swift action on the legislation. “The American people want this,” said Harkin, who along with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., sponsors the Senate’s version of the bill.

No debate has yet been scheduled in the Republican-dominated Senate, according to aides to Frist, a doctor and an abortion opponent, who has long been an ally of President Bush, the AP reported.

Supporters of the bill say federal funding for research on days-old embryos, using a process that destroys them, would accelerate the search for treatments and perhaps cures for diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Proponents argue that the embryos would have been discarded anyway.

Opponents, however, question any evidence that embryonic stem cell research will lead to cures and argue against the morality of destroying days-old embryos, saying taxpayers should not be forced to finance science they oppose.

The promise of medical advances through stem cell research prompted several House members of both parties who oppose abortion to vote in favor of the bill.

A less controversial measure, which President Bush supports, would fund research on adult stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood. The House passed that bill, 431-1, with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, casting the lone no vote.

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