The first of three hearings about the Bush administration's stem cell policy took place in front of the US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last week. Following the news that not all of the 64 stem cell lines identified by Bush as eligible to receive federal funding may be robust or developed enough for research purposes, the hearings are designed to test the soundness of the policy. Discussion about who owns the cells and the proper role of the federal government in supporting research also took place.
Tommy Thompson, the US Health and Human Services secretary, told the Senate committee that about 25 was a more accurate estimate of number of the stem cell lines available for research. Critics of the stem cell policy have questioned even this number, saying that questions over legal ownership and licensing, as well as the fact that some lines are not ready for research, limit the availability even more.
In his testimony, Mr Thompson showed general support for the policy but is said to have been one of the administration's few backers. Other politicians joined scientists, researchers and bioethicists in testifying that they believe the policy does not allow enough research to take place. Senator Edward Kennedy said that the scientific community is concerned over the restrictions because they 'will delay development of cures for dread diseases for many years at the cost of countless lives and immeasurable suffering'.
The two other hearings, to be held later this month, will be run by the Senate committee that handles spending for the US National Institutes of Health.