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Bush again vetoes embryo destruction

WASHINGTON (BP)–For the second time in less than a year, President Bush vetoed a bill June 20 that would have provided provide federal funds for stem cell research that destroys human embryos.

The president announced his rejection of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act in a White House ceremony in which he also disclosed the signing of an executive order to expand efforts to conduct ethical stem cell studies. Bush used the first veto of his presidency in July 2006 to nullify a similar bill.

“If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos,” Bush said at the White House event. “I made it clear to Congress and to the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line. Last year, Congress passed a similar bill. I kept my promise by vetoing it, and today I am keeping my word again.”

The Senate will have first shot at a veto override, which requires a two-thirds majority, but supporters of the bill appear incapable of reaching that goal in both chambers.

The Senate was much closer to a super-majority when it voted 63-34 for the measure, S. 5, in April. If the three senators who missed the first vote support the override, supporters of the bill could reach their goal. Sen. Craig Thomas, R.-Wyo., voted against the bill, but he died June 4. If no replacement has been named to his seat when the override vote is taken, only 66 votes will be needed to achieve a two-thirds majority.

The House of Representatives approved the measure June 7 with a 247-176 roll call, leaving it 35 votes short of an override.

The bill would liberalize a policy instituted by Bush in 2001 prohibiting federal grants for destructive embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). His rule permits funds for research on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence at the time of the announcement of the policy.

The measure the president vetoed would provide funds for research using stem cells procured from embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics. Extracting stem cells from embryos destroys the days-old human beings.

There is no federal ban on the practice of ESCR, only on its public funding. The U.S. government provides grants for non-embryonic research, which does not harm donors.

The executive order Bush signed June 20 calls for the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the National Institutes of Health, to assure that research on stem cells with embryonic-like qualities is eligible for federal funds if it does not harm embryos. The president also urged the House to approve a Senate-passed measure that authorizes grants for alternative stem cell research.

The president’s executive order followed the early June reports of three new studies that showed skin cells can be converted to embryonic-like cells in the laboratory. The research on mice found the skin cells could be formatted to be nearly identical to embryonic cells, which many scientists believe are the most potent and flexible for therapies. Experiments remain to be done on human beings, but the development raised more doubts about contentions by ESCR proponents that the federal government needs to fund the deadly research. Bush said June 20 this research received funding from the federal government.

Bush’s veto came one week after he told messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in a live satellite address he would turn back “any bill Congress sends me that violates the sanctity of human life.” The SBC approved resolutions in 1999 and 2005 opposing stem cell research that destroys embryos.

The Bush administration has granted more than $3 billion in federal funds for research on all types of stem cells, according to a White House fact sheet. About $130 million has been for stem cells from embryos already destroyed when the president announced his policy in 2001.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. Embryonic research has yet to treat any diseases in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.

Unlike research using embryos, extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources -– such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow -– has nearly universal support. Such research has produced treatments for at least 72 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.