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LIFE DIGEST: House to challenge Bush this week with embryonic stem cell research bill

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday or Thursday to provide federal funds for stem cell research that destroys embryos.

House approval will send the measure to President Bush, who has promised to veto the legislation, as he did last year. A veto by the president will mean the Senate will have first shot at an override, which requires a two-thirds majority, but congressional 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 Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act in April. Even if the three senators who missed the first vote support the override, supporters of the bill will need a member to change his or her vote in order to achieve a two-thirds majority.

The House passed a slightly different version in January with a 253-174 vote, leaving it more than 30 votes short of an override. The House was forced to vote again on the legislation when the Senate approved its own version in order to give it the initial override opportunity.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, along with other organizations opposing the bill, is encouraging Southern Baptists and other pro-life advocates to contact their representatives about the House vote (the Capitol switchboard number is 202-224-3121).

The bill would liberalize a policy instituted by Bush in 2001 that limits federal grants for destructive embryonic stem cell research. The measure 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.

The House vote in January for the measure marked a gain of 18 for supporters from July 2006, when its roll call was 235-193 in an unsuccessful effort to override the president’s veto.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions.

Many scientists contend embryonic stem cells have more therapeutic potential than their non-embryonic counterparts, but 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, which is funded by the federal government and sometimes called “adult stem cell research,” 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.

GEORGIA ENACTS ULTRASOUND LAW — Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has signed into law a bill requiring a woman seeking an abortion to be provided the opportunity to view an ultrasound image of her unborn child.

The bill, signed by the Republican governor May 23, makes Georgia the 10th state to enact such legislation. The others are Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

Meanwhile, the South Carolina Senate approved by voice vote May 16 a similar bill. The measure not only mandates a woman must receive an offer to view an ultrasound of her baby, but a doctor has to describe for her what she is seeing in the image, according to the Associated Press.

The South Carolina House of Representatives earlier had approved a stricter bill that would have required a woman to view an ultrasound image of her baby before aborting the child.

In other state news:

— The Illinois House voted 70-44 May 31 for a bill to legalize formally and to fund destructive embryonic stem cell research, AP reported. The bill will go to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who has given $15 million in grants the last two years for such research without legislative approval. The measure bans cloning to produce a live birth but permits cloning to create embryos, who are destroyed when stem cells are extracted from them (a process known as therapeutic cloning).

— The Louisiana House passed unanimously May 24 a bill to prohibit partial-birth abortions, with an exception when the mother’s life is threatened, according to the Shreveport Times. The bill awaits action in the Senate.

POLE SURVIVES 19-YEAR COMA — A lot happened in the 19 years Polish railway worker Jan Grzebski was in a coma.

When he regained consciousness nearly two decades after a 1988 accident, he found:

— His homeland, Poland, had thrown off communism and embraced democracy and a market economy;

— His four children all had married;

— He had 11 grandchildren.

“When I went into a coma there was only tea and vinegar in the shops, meat was rationed and huge petrol lines were everywhere. Now I see people on the streets with cell phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin,” the wheelchair-bound Grzebski, 65, told Warsaw news channel TVN24 in a June 2 report, according to Reuters News Service.

After his accident, doctors estimated Grzebski would live no more than three years.

He gave his wife, Gertruda, credit for bringing him out of his coma. “It was Gertruda that saved me, and I’ll never forget it,” he said.

Boguslaw Poniatowski, a doctor, told Super Express, another Polish news outlet, that Gertruda “did the job of an experienced intensive care team, changing her comatose husband’s position every hour to prevent bed-sore infections.”

Grzebski said he vaguely remembered family get-togethers he was taken to from the hospital while in a coma and times when his wife and children would speak to him, Reuters reported.