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LIFE DIGEST: Congressional supporters of
destructive embryonic stem cell research hopeful; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Promoters of embryonic stem cell research are predicting they could have the votes in the next Congress to overcome a presidential veto and provide federal funds for the destructive experimentation.

A more realistic outlook, however, appears to make such a result unlikely.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who will be the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the next Congress, has said approval of federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), which requires the destruction of human embryos, will be a priority during the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress in January, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., chairman of the committee that oversees stem cell research, also said the issue is a major focus in the Senate, The Tribune reported Nov. 24.

The Democrats’ takeover of both houses of Congress has prompted ESCR supporters such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, and Rep. Diana DeGette, D.-Colo., to think optimistically.

“I think we have the votes in the Senate to override a veto, and we may have them in the House,” Hatch said, according to The Tribune. “I think we can get there. According to some, we’re only a couple of votes short, and I think I know where those votes are.”

DeGette, who will be the lead sponsor of an embryonic stem cell research bill, spoke to the House’s 41 new Democrats recently and said, “[T]o describe them as wildly enthusiastic about this bill would be an understatement. I think the election really sent a message to Washington that the voters want embryonic stem cell research passed.”

The American Medical Association, however, said the voters did not send enough pro-embryonic stem cell research representatives to Washington to change the policy, LifeNews.com reported. The election “did not produce veto-proof congressional majorities” for ESCR funding, according to the AMA.

The House will be about 30 votes short of overriding a presidential veto, predicted James Fossett of the Alden March Bioethics Institute in Albany, N.Y., according to LifeNews.

Following November’s election, the Democrats have a 231-198 edge in the House, with six races still undecided. In the Senate, the Democrats hold a 51-49 organizational margin.

In July, the House fell 51 votes short of overriding President Bush’s veto of a bill that would have provided funds for research on embryos donated from fertility clinics.

The White House signaled Bush would not change his policy of opposing embryonic stem cell research funding. Experiments using non-embryonic stem cells have provided treatments for at least 72 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. Those include spinal cord injuries, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, sickle cell anemia and multiple sclerosis.

White spokesman Blair Jones said The Tribune that Bush already supports stem cell research, including research on bone marrow, fat and umbilical cord blood.

“Those are facts that cannot be denied,” Jones said. “After careful and thoughtful deliberation with government and outside experts, there was only one moral line that the president said that he would not cross –- and that is that federal taxpayer dollars should not be used in the destruction of embryos.”

Bush’s veto of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act is the only one during his six years in the White House. He instituted a policy in August 2001 permitting funds for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence when his policy was announced.

The Senate approved ESCR funds in July in a 63-37 vote, four votes short of a veto-proof majority.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. While federal government funding of experiments on embryonic stem cells is barred, such research itself is legal and ongoing in this country.

Many scientists contend embryonic stem cells have more therapeutic potential than their non-embryonic counterparts, but embryonic research has yet to reach clinical trials in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.

NO RIGHTS FOR EMBRYOS –- Ireland’s constitution does not protect the right to life of embryos in storage, a judge has ruled.

Judge Brian McGovern wrote that “the right to life of the unborn” in the Irish Constitution does not include embryos created through in vitro fertilization, The New Zealand Herald reported Nov. 15. McGovern said the three embryos in question “are not ‘unborn.’”

“There has been no evidence…… to establish that it was ever in the mind of the people voting on the [Eighth] Amendment to the Constitution that ‘unborn’ meant anything other than a fetus or child within the womb,” McGovern said in his 88-page opinion, according to The Herald.

Ireland, which is predominantly Catholic, has banned abortion except when the mother’s life is threatened.

Diarmuid Martin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Dublin, criticized the ruling, according to the newspaper, saying in a written statement, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his or her existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person.”

McGovern’s ruling prevented a mother from having the embryos implanted over the objections of her estranged husband and the fertility clinic, The Herald reported. The mother, who was unnamed, gave birth to a girl in 2002 after IVF treatment. Her three other embryos were frozen and placed in storage.

BAN ENACTED -– Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos signed into law Nov. 17 a complete ban on abortions, even those to save the life of the mother.

Nicaragua becomes the 35th country in the world with a comprehensive abortion ban, according to LifeNews.

The measure passed the legislature in late October.

Previously, Nicaraguan law permitted an exception for abortion if three doctors confirmed the procedure is needed to protect a woman’s health. Advocates for the new law contended that exception allowed a woman seeking an abortion to convince physicians to cite her health as the reason for the procedure, LifeNews reported.