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US Senate debates stem cells

17 July 2006
Appeared in BioNews 367

The US Senate has begun debating a bill on embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research that will, if passed, extend the provision of federal funding for such research. The bill - known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 (HR 810) - is being debated alongside two other bills dealing with issues in ES cell research. A vote is expected on Tuesday.

Bill HR 810 has already been passed by the House of Representatives, following debates last May, but has stalled in the Senate since that time. The bill - which would allow federal funds to be used for research on ES cells derived from embryos left over from fertility treatments and voluntarily donated by patients - was passed in the House by 238 votes to 194. A vote in favour of the bill would see the Senate going against policy put in place by President George Bush in 2001. Bush, who morally opposes any research that would involve the destruction of human embryos, announced on 9 August 2001 that no federal funds would be available for researchers working on human ES cells created after that date. US 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.

However, soon after bill HR 810 was passed by the House of Representatives, Bush pledged to veto any federal legislation that would relax the policy on ES cell research conducted by federally funded researchers. To override such a Presidential veto, the bill will need to have been passed with a two-thirds majority in both chambers - something it did not reach in the House. Last May, Senator Arlen Specter said that he was confident that the necessary two-thirds majority is achievable in the Senate. But President Bush last week 'emphatically' restated his intention to use the presidential veto - his first since taking office -should the Senate pass the bill. Senator Harry Reid, leader of the minority in the Senate, said that to do so would be 'a terrible disservice to the American people, the hopes of millions'. A number of other Senators and other interested parties have called on Bush not to use his power of veto. Opinion polls suggest that almost 70 per cent of Americans support ES cell research.

The other two bills to be debated - both of which are expected to pass - take different approaches. The first (S 2754), which is sponsored by Republican Senators Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, would require the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research ways of creating ES cell lines without creating and destroying actual embryos, as well as increasing research into adult stem cells. The other (S 3504), sponsored by Senators Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback, would ban the use of embryos from 'fetal farms' in research - those that could be created in a non-human uterus or from human pregnancies created specifically for the purposes of research.

Senate To Begin Debate, Vote On Three Stem Cell-Related Bills
Medical News Today |  17 July 2006
Senate to debate stem cell bill
BBC News Online |  17 July 2006
Stem-cell science moves in all directions
Reuters |  16 July 2006
US Senate poised for showdown on stem cells
New Scientist |  17 July 2006
3 July 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
The US Senate may soon be due to vote on a bill to expand the availability of federal funding for human embryonic stem (ES) cell research. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced last week that he will schedule a vote sometime this month on the bill...
22 May 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
Nancy Reagan, former first lady of the US, has reiterated her calls for federal legislation supporting embryonic stem (ES) cell research. Earlier this month, she published a personal letter that she had written to Senator Orrin Hatch, saying that she wants to see debate and a...
18 April 2006 - by BioNews 
Prospects of the US passing a federal bill in support of all forms of stem cell research seem to have stalled, with a busy legislative timetable and lack of agreement on the issues to blame. Last year, Congress seemed like it had successfully reopened the debate on stem cell research...
8 August 2005 - by BioNews 
US President George Bush has restated his intention to veto any new law extending his policy on human embryonic stem (ES) cell research, if the Senate passes it. Current policy, set by the President on 9 August 2001, only allows state funds to be used for research on ES cell...
1 August 2005 - by BioNews 
Bill Frist, the US Senate Majority Leader, has added his support to legislation that would extend the provision of federal funding for human embryonic stem (ES) cell research in the US. Current policy, set by President Bush on 9 August 2001, only allows state funds to be used for research...
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