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Embryo research bills to hit Senate floor July 17

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate will take up three bills involving human embryo research July 17, including a controversial measure to fund destructive stem cell experiments.

Majority Leader Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., announced July 12 the Senate would begin debate on the three proposals July 17, with votes to occur no later than the next day. The bills to be considered by the Senate are:

— The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 810, which was approved by the House of Representatives last year and would provide federal funds for stem cell research that destroys human embryos created in fertility clinics.

— The Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act, S. 2754, which would promote the development of embryo-like stem cells without creating or knowingly harming embryos.

— The Fetus Farming Prohibition Act, S. 3504, which would bar the acceptance of tissue from an embryo implanted or developed in a woman or animal for research purposes.

Under the agreement by which the measures will be considered, each bill will need 60 votes to pass in the 100-seat chamber. Also, no amendments will be permitted.

There appears to be a good chance all three proposals will gain the necessary votes. Columnist Robert Novak predicted July 12 the controversial Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act would gain “roughly 68 to 70 votes” unless President Bush persuades more Republican senators to oppose the bill.

The White House has reiterated in recent weeks that the president will veto the proposal, which is strongly opposed by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-life organizations. The extraction of stem cells from embryos requires the destruction of the tiny human beings. If Bush follows through on his pledge, it will be the first veto of his presidency.

Congress appears incapable of overriding a presidential veto of the bill. Though the Senate may have the 67 votes needed for an override, the House apparently will fall far short of the two-thirds majority required. In May 2005, the House passed H.R. 810 in a 238-194 vote, about 50 votes short of a two-thirds majority.

The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would underwrite research that uses embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics, is designed to liberalize a Bush policy prohibiting federal funds for stem cell research that results in the destruction of human embryos. Bush’s rule allows funds for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence when his policy was announced in 2001.

While most pro-life advocates ardently oppose H.R. 810, they strongly support the ban on fetus farming, S. 3504. At least some pro-lifers are backing S. 2754, the alternative stem cell bill.

Recent studies on two methods that apparently would be covered by S. 2754 have received support from some pro-lifers. One, known as reprogramming, shows promise of returning body cells to their embryonic-like qualities, thereby making them potentially more effective in treating diseases. Another, known as altered nuclear transfer (ANT), is a modification of cloning in which genes are switched off before the nucleus of a cell is placed in a fertilized egg. Some argue that no embryo is created; stem cells can be extracted from the resultant mass.

Unlike research on embryos, extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources –- such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow –- does not harm the donor and has produced treatments that have been peer-reviewed for at least 70 ailments, including spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia. Embryonic research has yet to treat any diseases in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.

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