In the wake of cloning and embryonic stem cell (ES cell) news from scientists in South Korea and the UK, a vote on legislation to extend the provisions of state funding for ES cell research in the US is expected in Congress this week. However, President Bush - who announced his disapproval of the South Korean work - has vowed to veto the bill, if passed. The New York Times has predicted that this would prompt a 'showdown' between the President and Congress, where the proposed legislation has bipartisan support. However, it is not sure that Congress will achieve the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto.
Bush announced on 9 August 2001 that no federal funds would be available for researchers working on human ES cells created after that date. Scientists have since complained that this policy restricts their research and leaves only less effective ES cell lines for them to work with, as ES cells created before that date were created using mouse 'feeder' cells.
A bill to expand the federal funding provisions, sponsored by Michael Castle and Dianne DeGette, with more than 200 co-sponsors, is currently before Congress. It would allow federal funds to be used for research on ES cells derived from embryos created for fertility treatments and donated by patients, although would not allow funds for ES cell research on embryos created expressly for research purposes. The bill also provides that patients cannot be paid for embryo donation and that they must have full knowledge of how the donated embryos would be used.
Since becoming President, Bush has never vetoed any bill passed. But he says that he will not hesitate to use his power of veto over any bill that supports research that 'destroys life in order to save life'. He added 'I made it very clear to Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is... I'm against that'. Michael Castle, in response, said that the bill coincides with Bush's principles, explaining that the bill 'draws a strict ethical line by only allowing federally-funded research on stem cell lines that were derived ethically from donated embryos determined to be in excess'. Dianne DeGette said that 'it's disappointing that the president would threaten to use his first veto on a bill that holds promise for cures to diseases that affect millions of Americans'.
Last month, a cross-party group introduced a similar bill to the US Senate that would formally ban human reproductive cloning while relaxing the restrictions on federal funding of ES cell research. Similar bills have failed to pass through the Senate and Congress in previous years, but present levels of support seem to be higher. The Senate bill's sponsors - Dianne Feinstein, Orrin Hatch, Arlen Specter, Edward Kennedy and Tom Harkin - said last week that they will fight harder to gain support from their colleagues. Hatch has also lent his support to the bill in Congress, saying that 'if we can pass this in the House, I really believe we can pass it in the Senate'. It was also announced last week that an advertising campaign to help promote the Senate bill is to be launched. It will focus on Nancy Reagan's support for ES cell research and will feature newspaper and television advertisements.