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House Defies Bush on Stem Cells
But Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Calif.) said that his older brother John's 15-year battle with Parkinson's did not obviate his ethical concerns and that he could not support "the destruction of part of the human family."
"The worst mistakes we've ever made in the history of this nation have been when we have defined a part of the human family as less than fully human, and done things to them that we would not allow done to ourselves," Lungren said. "We've done it with slavery; we've done it with the Tuskegee medical experiments" on poor black men with syphilis.
In the Senate, a matching bill has the crucial support of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who have said they plan to capitalize on the momentum from the House. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), one of the chamber's leading conservatives, has said he intends to filibuster to try to prevent a vote. Hatch has said he may have enough votes to overcome that.
Republican leaders said they do not believe that the bill's supporters can achieve the 290 votes needed to override a Bush veto in the House. House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.), who voted for the bill, said he hopes to negotiate a compromise with the White House to avoid a veto showdown.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the leader of House conservatives, called the vote "a successful failure," saying the margin was closer than expected.
Several of the Republicans voting "yes" acknowledged they were breaking voting records they described as "pro-life" and said they were doing so because of their interest in pursuing potential cures for diabetes, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries and other ailments.
Unlike the partisan battles that typically occupy the House, the day-long debate was intensely personal, infused with biblical references, accounts of family medical tragedies and sharp disagreement over when life begins. The broad aisle down the middle of the chamber, usually a physical as well as psychic barrier between the parties, was porous for the day as members crossed over to chat with the opposition.
Proponents of the bill argued that Bush's 2001 limits on federal funding have hampered potentially promising treatments for a range of illnesses and put the United States at a competitive disadvantage with nations that have pursued the research more aggressively. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) called his support "one of the most important votes I will ever make in Congress."
"I think it's time we recognized the Dark Ages are over," Shays said. "Galileo and Copernicus have been proven right. The world is in fact round; the Earth does revolve around the sun. I believe God gave us intellect to differentiate between imprisoning dogma and sound ethical science, which is what we must do here today."
Opposing the bill, House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) drew scattered applause when he compared the legislation to the failure of a former generation to recognize the humanity of Dred Scott, the slave whose suit for his freedom led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
"For the first time in our national history, taxpayers' dollars are going to be spent for the killing of innocent human life," Hyde said. "We're going to pay a terrible price for not recognizing the humanity of these little embryos."
The small, vigorous group of opponents lobbied instead for more research on stem cells that are harvested from bone marrow and other organs, such as the pancreas or liver, and perhaps the umbilical cords of newborns.
House leaders paired the Castle-DeGette bill with legislation promoting research on stem cells derived from discarded umbilical cord blood. Cord blood cells have cured dozens of diseases, but those achievements have been limited to diseases of the blood. That bill passed 430 to 1.
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), who said she had a "perfect pro-life record," said she recently changed her position to support embryonic stem cell research after consulting with patients, scientists, ethicists and her minister.
"Who can say prolonging a life is not pro-life?" she said, one day after her mother-in-law died of an illness she said might have been treated with stem cell therapy.
Staff writer Rick Weiss contributed to this report.