President Bush has again vetoed legislation that would relax federal funding restrictions on human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research in the US, despite it having been passed by large majorities in both the House and the Senate. In the third veto of his presidency, Bush said the legislation crossed a moral line that he could not allow America to pass. 'If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryo', he said.
The President attempted to appease opposition to his decision by issuing an executive order urging US stem cell scientists to pursue 'ethically responsible' research that does not involved the destruction of the embryo. Advances in stem cell research must be pursued in a way 'that respects human dignity and upholds our moral values', he said, but did not provide extra funding. Douglas Melton, a stem cell scientist from Harvard University, said that adult stem cell research, which does not involve the destruction of the embryo, 'should be pursued just as actively as we pursue human embryonic stem cell research'. 'It doesn't need any special attention from the White House. All we've ever asked is to let human embryonic stem cell research vie for public funding like all other research', he said.
The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act 2007 passed in the House by 253-174 votes and in the Senate by 63-34 votes, narrowly falling short of the two-thirds majority necessary in both cases to override a Presidential veto. It was expected that President Bush would veto this legislation, after the White House had indicated that his position had remained unchanged since he vetoed an almost identical bill last year. Yet the President's moral position stands at odds with the opinion of the US public, who largely support ES cell research. Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who promised to support legislation after the Democrats took control of both the House and the Senate, said that in issuing his veto the President had 'ignored the will of the American people, of leading medical researchers, and of a bipartisan majority of the Congress'. Democrat Senator, Hilary Clinton, commenting on the decision, said that it 'puts ideology before science, politics before the needs of our families'.
The Democrats now plan to enrol the help of the Republicans to attach a measure to relax federal restrictions to 'must-pass' legislation voted on by the Senate Appropriations Committee. One such attachment, proposed by Senator Ton Harkin, would extend the period eligible for ES stem cell funding to that prior to 15 June 2007. Current federal law, introduced by President Bush on 9 August 2001, limits funding to cell lines derived before that date. 'Beyond trying to do this in a must-pass, must-sign type piece of legislation, we're going to have to wait either for a change of mind at the White House, which seems unlikely unless there are some major medical breakthroughs, or the next president', said Republic Michael Castle, who is sponsoring the measure. Stem cell research, a hot topic during the previous mid-term elections, is expected to become a crucial area in the next year's race for the Presidency.