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President Bush Threatens to Veto Stem Cell Bill

President Bush threatened to use his veto power after the Senate reopened debate Monday on a bill to lift restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Two analysts discuss the medical research implications.

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  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    Today's debate over embryonic stem-cell research was kicked off by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. He broke with President Bush over the issue last year.

  • SEN. BILL FRIST, R-Tenn., Senate Majority Leader:

    Many of my colleagues have, like me, spent hours grappling with these issues: the future of stem-cell research; how we balance pro-life positions with the potential for new life and health offered by stem-cell research.

    But I've come to realize we must participate in defining research surrounding the culture of life; if not, it will define us.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Frist and others, mostly Democrats and moderate Republicans, are backing a measure passed by the House of Representatives last year. It would allow taxpayer dollars to be used for scientific work on potentially hundreds of new stem-cell colonies, created from embryos left over from fertility treatments.

    But President Bush has repeatedly vowed to veto any change in his existing policy.

    In 2001, he announced that federal funds could only be used for research on 22 authorized stem-cell colonies created five or more years ago. Many conservatives, including Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas, support the president's restriction. They contend that destroying anymore embryos to extract stem cells would be immoral.

    SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), Kansas: What we're talking about in this debate is the use of embryos, young humans, as raw material, raw material in research, raw material to exploit, raw material. It is unnecessary to do.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    But Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin supports the proposed change in federal policy. Today he stressed the potential from expanding research on embryonic stem cells, prototype cells derived from dot-sized, several-day-old embryos that ultimately develop into all of the different cells and tissues of the human body.

    SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), Iowa: Embryonic stem-cell research offers real hope, real hope for people with Lou Gehrig's disease; real hope for people with Parkinson's; real hope for people who suffer from autoimmune diseases, like Lupus.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Two other bills are also under consideration in the Senate this week. One would ban so-called "fetal farming"; that is, acquiring tissue from a human embryo or fetus solely created for that purpose or from one grown in another animal.

    The other measure would increase federally funded research on other types of stem cells not derived from embryos. Supporters like Brownback say these, too, could lead to new cures and treatments.

  • SEN. SAM BROWNBACK:

    If we had taken the half a billion dollars, $500 million that we have invested in embryonic stem-cell research in animals and humans and invested that instead in adult stem-cell research and cord-blood research, we would have a lot more people in clinical trials today. We would have a lot more people, I believe, being cured.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    The Senate is expected to wind up debate and pass all three bills tomorrow. To override the president's promised veto of a change in policy, both chambers would need to muster a two-thirds majority.

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