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LIFE DIGEST: Democrats plan effort to overcome ESCR
veto; California cities jump on pro-choice bandwagon; …

WASHINGTON (BP)–Advocates for stem cell research that destroys embryos will not be turned back without a protracted fight in this Congress.

The Senate will vote on its own version of a bill to fund embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), Democratic leaders have decided, according to Congressional Quarterly Today. In so doing, ESCR advocates will set up the opportunity for the Senate to have first shot at an override of a veto by President Bush. The possibility of an override is more feasible in the upper chamber than in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, if that strategy fails, Sen. Tom Harkin, D.-Iowa, a leading ESCR promoter, has promised he will attach the measure to a must-pass bill.

“The president has to understand this is not going to go away,” Harkin said after a Jan. 19 hearing on stem cell research, CQ reported. “If he vetoes it, and we don’t have the votes to override the veto, we will look for every way possible to attach it to some must-do legislation this year.”

Rep. Diana DeGette, D.-Colo., promised a similar strategy Jan. 26. “He can do this the easy way, or he can do this the hard way,” the sponsor of a House-passed funding bill said of Bush, according to the Associated Press.

The House approved the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act in a 253-174 vote Jan. 11. That total fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override. An override would require 290 votes to succeed if all House members vote.

Democrats plan to gain Senate passage of a version that differs from the House-approved legislation, CQ reported. The Senate-passed bill will go to the House, which can approve the Senate version or substitute its language. A substitute version would require a conference committee to negotiate the differences before returning the final bill to both houses for approval. Either way, a Bush veto will send the measure to the Senate first for an override attempt.

“That’s not very surprising that [the Democrats] would do that, because it’s very close in the Senate, and there’s a chance the Senate could override,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

Senate advocates for funding ESCR would fall a vote short, however, if all the returning senators vote the same as they did last year and if the new ones elected in November vote as they have said they are inclined, Johnson told Baptist Press.

Last year, senators voted 63-37 for the House-passed measure, which left the bill four votes short of a veto-proof majority.

Regardless of whether the Senate gains the votes needed for an override, Johnson said, “The House is going to sustain the veto whether it votes first or second.”

As to the promises by Harkin and DeGette, Johnson said the situation is similar to that faced by the current president’s father, who was in the White House from 1989-93 when both houses were controlled by the Democrats. Then, Democratic leaders used the same tactics, attaching measures undermining pro-life policies to unrelated but critical bills.

The first President Bush vetoed 10 different bills weakening pro-life policies, and all 10 vetoes were sustained in Congress, Johnson said. The overall bills eventually were approved and signed into law without the provisions objected to by the president.

The current President Bush has reiterated his intention to veto any bill that weakens his ESCR funding policy. His only veto so far in six years in the White House came last year, when he rejected the same bill approved recently by the House. The House’s override attempt in July fell far short.

The House-approved measure would provide funds for research using stem cells extracted from embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics. Bush’s rule allows funds for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence when his policy was announced in August 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.

The NRLC, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-life organizations oppose embryonic research because extracting stem cells requires the destruction of the days-old human being.

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, which is funded by the federal government, does not harm the donor and 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.

ESCR has yet to produce a therapy for human beings, and it has been plagued by the development of tumors in laboratory animals.

‘CHOICE’ CITIES –- Santa Cruz has become the latest California city to pick a side in the abortion debate.

The city council voted 5-2 in its Jan. 23 meeting to declare Santa Cruz a “pro-choice city” and to authorize it to join the Pro-choice City Campaign, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The newspaper described the Pro-choice City Campaign as a “national network of cities dedicated to advocating for reproductive health choices and access to services.” The campaign apparently began with the city of West Hollywood, Calif.

Santa Monica, Calif., joined West Hollywood as a founding member of the campaign in August in a unanimous vote by its city council. The Berkeley, Calif., City Council is to consider a proposal to join the campaign in its Jan. 30 meeting, according to a draft agenda posted on the Internet.

Santa Cruz City Council members defended their vote for the resolution as a way of guarding the people’s “health and safety,” the Sentinel reported.

“I don’t think there’s a question where the majority of residents in Santa Cruz lie on this issue,” council member Mike Rotkin said, according to the newspaper. “We don’t make decisions based on unanimity. We make decisions based on the majority.”

Council member Lynn Robinson, who voted against the motion, said the body took “the wrong direction,” the Sentinel reported. Robinson, who said she supports abortion rights, remarked, “When there’s so much city business to attend to, this is not what I want to be doing as a council member.”

Some Santa Cruz residents pleaded with the council not to approve the resolution.

“Declaring Santa Cruz as a pro-choice city is a murder mentality,” said Gera Schmidt, a 22-year resident of the area, the Sentinel reported. “We believe the unborn would [say to] the council, ‘Please don’t promote and encourage the Santa Cruz mommy’s womb to be a tomb.’”

ETHICAL STEM CELL HOPES — Stem cell research that does not destroy embryos continues to produce hopeful results, including for the treatment of diabetes.

South Korean scientists grew pancreatic beta cells, which can aid in treating diabetes, using stem cells from umbilical cord blood, the team announced Jan. 23, according to The Korea Times. Beta cells in the pancreas make insulin, the absence of which can cause diabetes.

“We hope cord blood stem cell-related advances will help [diabetics],” said Kang Kyung-sun, a Seoul National University professor who directs the research team, The Times reported. “It will enable patients to grapple with diabetes without causing ethical debates, unlike that on embryonic stem cells.”

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 is opposed by many people because extracting stem cells requires the destruction of the days-old human being. Procuring stem cells from non-embryonic sources -– such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, bone marrow and fat -– does not require harm to the donor.

In another development announced Jan. 24, British and American researchers reported some stem cells from mothers are passed to the pancreases of their unborn children with type 1 diabetes and grow into beta cells, The Telegraph reported. The research suggests a mother’s stem cells can be extracted to help treat a diabetic child, according to the British newspaper.

The newly published research by teams from Bristol University in England and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle showed there were no immune problems between the cells of the mother and her child.

There are about 20.8 million adults and children in the United States with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. From 5 to 10 percent of Americans with diabetes have type 1, according to the ADA’s website. Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s failure to make insulin. Most American diabetic patients have type 2 diabetes, which results from the body’s inability to use insulin properly, according to the ADA.

CRIST PUSHES LETHAL RESEARCH — Florida’s new Republican governor, Charlie Crist, is backing a bill to fund stem cell research that destroys embryos.

A Democratic legislator, Rep. Franklin Sands of Weston, introduced a bill Jan. 23 requiring the state to provide at least $20 million annually for 10 years for research using embryonic and non-embryonic stem cells, according to AP.

Embryonic experimentation is controversial because the extraction of stem cells from an embryo results in the death of the days-old human being. Non-embryonic stem cells are procured without harming the donor.

After the bill was introduced, Crist said the issue is a priority for him.

“I think it’s important, and we talked about it during the campaign, because of the promise it has for maybe the curing … of many diseases and maladies that exist for a lot of our citizens,” he said, AP reported.

“There’s so many areas and so many things that can be helped by this kind of research, and I think caring, compassionate people get that,” Crist said. “So I don’t think it’s going to be facing that much resistance. That’s my hope.”

Crist’s predecessor, Republican Jeb Bush, opposed the bill, however, as did many GOP leaders in the legislature. The measure did not receive a floor vote last year, AP reported.