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Stem cell votes set for Tuesday in House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives will vote Tuesday on a bill that would provide federal funds for stem cell research that destroys human embryos.

The House also will vote the same day on another stem cell research funding bill, one that does not require embryo destruction.

Opponents of destructive embryo research face a difficult challenge in trying to defeat the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 810. The bill is an attempt to overturn President’s Bush policy prohibiting federal funds for stem cell research that results in the destruction of human embryos. Rep. Michael Castle, R.-Del., the bill’s sponsor, has 200 cosponsors for H.R. 810 and needs only 17 votes to achieve a majority of the entire House.

Meanwhile, pro-life advocates hope to pass a measure establishing a federally funded program to make available stem cells procured from umbilical cord blood. Unlike Castle’s bill, the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act would not result in harm to donors. Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., is its sponsor.

Castle’s legislation is the most serious congressional assault on Bush’s policy since the president instituted it in August 2001. The president’s rule allows funding for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence prior to his announcement of the policy.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., is sponsoring a similar Senate version, S. 471, which has 32 cosponsors.

If both the House and Senate were to pass the legislation, only a presidential veto would prevent it from becoming law. In more than four years in the White House, Bush has yet to veto a bill. The president promised May 20 he would veto the measure, saying he had made it “very clear” to Congress he opposed “the use of federal money, taxpayers’ money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life.”

Castle’s bill would underwrite research that uses embryos left over at in vitro fertilization clinics.

In an email alert sent May 23 by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, its president, Richard Land, said embryos in storage at IVF clinics do not have to be destroyed.

“[T]hey can be adopted or donated to other couples, and many are,” Land said. “There is no doubt that this is a bad bill, but what is even more troubling is that it is actually the first step toward the cloning of human embryos for stem cell research. After all, it is an easy next step from destroying embryos that are to be ‘discarded’ to making clones of them that will also be destroyed.”

Pro-life organizations are urging Americans to call the Capitol switchboard, (202) 225-3121, and ask their representatives to oppose H.R. 810.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. In addition to being extracted from embryos, the cells may be found in such non-embryonic sources as bone marrow, fat and placentas as well as umbilical cord blood.

Embryonic stem cell research has failed to produce any successful therapies in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals. Meanwhile, research on stem cells from non-embryonic sources has produced treatments for at least 58 ailments, according to the National Right to Life Committee. These include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.

Smith’s bill would authorize $79 million over five years for the collection and storage of stem cells from umbilical cord blood. It also would establish a network for doctors and patients to access in an effort to find matches.

“Umbilical cords are a rich, non-controversial source of stem cells, but currently hospitals throw millions of them away each year because we do not have the infrastructure needed to properly collect and store them,” Smith said in a written release. “The best-kept medical secret has been that thousands have been successfully treated with cord blood stem cells….”

Castle’s bill had 201 cosponsors, but Rep. Ken Calvert, R.-Calif., withdrew his sponsorship May 19.