Guide to Federal Stem Cell Legislation
Tuesday, July 18, 2006; 11:27 AM

The Senate is now considering a bill, which the House has passed, that would allow federal funding for research on stem cell lines derived from frozen embryos that are stored at fertility clinics and slated for destruction. Embryo donors must give written consent and cannot be paid for the cells.

The bill, H.R. 810passed in the House in May 24, 2005 by a vote of 238 to 194 with the support of 50 Republicans.

"Eager to soften the impact of Bush vetoing a measure that other prominent conservative Republicans support," the Post reported, "the GOP leadership is holding votes on two other measures to give Bush stem cell legislation he will sign. One of the bills would encourage research into creating stem cell lines without destroying human embryos. The other would ban the creation of a fetus solely for the purpose of destroying it and harvesting its body parts."

Bush's Policy

President Bush promised in May 2005 to veto any legislation that would loosen his 2001 restrictions of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. It would be his first veto.

"... I made it very clear to the 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. And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it," he said.

Bush's policy allows federal money to only finance research on 64 existing stem cell lines worldwide "where the life and death decision has already been made." The announcement on Aug. 9, 2001, was his first televised public address as president.

Scientists said it was unclear whether at least one third of the designated lines were viable for research.

Most of the stem cell lines are controlled by private, for-profit companies or foreign labs. Scientists can access stem cell lines by contacting those labs directly, and they can apply for federal money through the National Institutes of Health

This is the first time the United States has funded research on stem cells, which were discovered in 1998. In 2004, $25 million in federal money was spent on the research.

Four scientists at the NIH are dedicated to monitoring the use of approved stem cell lines and allocating grant money. The NIH will not fund: 

  • The use of stem cell lines derived from embryos destroyed after Aug. 9, 2001
  • The creation of any human embryos for research purposes
  • The cloning of human embryos for any purpose
  • In November 2001, Bush created a Council on Bioethics, mostly composed of professors, to produce reports on bioethics issues. In addition to stem cells, the council also studies such controversial topics as cloning, psychoactive drugs and euthanasia.

    Bush's policy replaced NIH guidelines issued under the Clinton administration that would have allowed the first federal subsidies of stem cell research. Those rules did not permit the use of federal funds to destroy human embryos directly, but would have allowed funding for studies using stem cells taken from embryos by privately financed researchers.

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