House Passes Bill Relaxing Limits on Stem Cell Research

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007

The House yesterday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would loosen the restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research imposed by President Bush in 2001, inaugurating the second such assault on the administration's stem cell policy in as many years.

Thirty-seven Republicans joined 216 Democrats to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would allow federal funding of research on stem cells from embryos slated for destruction at fertility clinics.

The 253 to 174 vote fell 37 votes short of what it would take to override the veto that Bush yesterday promised would be forthcoming, assuming the Senate passes the same bill, as expected. Bush vetoed the legislation after it passed last year.

But buoyant research proponents said they still have several options and promised to persevere until the legislation becomes law.

"While it's not enough to override a veto, it's enough to show we have tremendous momentum," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who led the House effort with Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.).

With the Senate already within one vote of having the two-thirds majority it needs for an override, and with the Democrats now in a majority position that will allow them to use procedural rules in their favor, DeGette suggested that it is time for the president to begin negotiating with Congress over compromise language.

"The vote today shows that productive discussions might be a very, very good idea for all concerned," she said.

Under the existing policy, federal funds may be used to study only those stem cells taken from embryos destroyed by Aug. 9, 2001 -- or about 21 of the nearly 400 stem cell colonies created since 1998.

The House-based bill would expand that pool of available cells to include those from any of the thousands of embryos that are discarded by fertility clinics each year, as long as those cells were freely donated for research by the parents. It would also impose some of the country's first ethics rules on embryo research.

The vote came after about three hours of impassioned speeches by lawmakers on both sides of the issue.

Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) warned that passage would lead to a "slippery slope." Before long, he said, scientists would routinely be creating human embryos "for the express purpose of killing that embryo" for research.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.), touting his credentials as a former research scientist who studied human embryology, spoke up for alternative methods of getting stem cells -- methods that virtually all leading stem cells scientists have discounted as having uncertain value.

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