Stem Cell Research Bill Faces Potential Veto

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed two separate stem cell research bills, but most of the debate focused on just one. That measure would loosen restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush has already said he will veto the bill, which would be the first veto of his administration. The stem cell debate promises to resonate far beyond the halls of Congress.

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed two separate stem cell research bills but most of the debate focused on just one of them. The measure would loosen restrictions on the federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush had indicated that he will veto the bill if passed. NPR's Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports on the stem cell debate and its resonance far beyond the halls of Congress.

NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER reporting:

In 2001, President Bush banned federal funding for research using new embryonic stem cell lines. One of the House bills would change that, allowing government-funded researchers to work with stem cells drawn from embryos left over from fertility treatments. The bill's supporters say instead of being discarded, the excess embryos could be donated for research. But opponents, who believe life begins at inception, are offended by the idea.

(Soundbite of "This Week")

Unidentified Man: Time now for The List, and we continue our earlier discussions of stem cells with two passionate women.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Those passionate women appearing on ABC's "This Week" were Christopher Reeve's wife, Dana, and evangelist Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz. The families of both women have been affected by disability and disease. Graham Lotz spoke first, followed by Reeve.

(Soundbite of "This Week")

Ms. ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ: I have a father who has Parkinson's disease. I have a son who has cancer. I have a mother who has congenital arthritis. I have a husband who has diabetes. But I would not want any one of my family members to benefit from the willful destruction of another human life.

Mrs. DANA REEVE: There is not a disorder you can name that wouldn't benefit from stem cell research--eye, heart, lungs, every part of the body. The stem cell discovery is going to be the most prominent discovery, I think, in our lifetime, for sure.

MARSHALL-GENZER: The debate that divides Reeve and Graham Lotz also divides Republicans. Some Republicans support the stem cell research legislation despite President Bush's veto threat. Conservative Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah has gone so far as to co-sponsor legislation that would make it easier to obtain new stem cell lines. Some House Republicans have come up with a compromise, the other stem cell research bill considered by Congress yesterday. That measure supports research on stem cells culled from umbilical cord blood, but many scientists say those type of stem cells would be of little value. David Shaywitz, a stem cell researcher at Harvard, says the umbilical cord stem cells don't have the flexibility of embryonic stem cells.

Mr. DAVID SHAYWITZ (Stem Cell Researcher, Harvard): All stem cells are not created equal. Embryonic stem cells have the ability to specialize into any cell type in the body. Adult blood stem cells and umbilical cord blood stem cells only have the ability to become other blood cells.

MARSHALL-GENZER: As Congress continues to wrestle with the ethics of stem cell research, other nations have generously funded it. Last week, South Korean scientists announced they'd come up with an improved method of generating embryonic stem cells. They'd used human eggs and DNA from people suffering from disease or disability. The scientists hope they can eventually use the stem cells to treat those patients. Nancy Marshall-Genzer, NPR News, Washington.

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