Stem Cells: A Win for the Patients' Lobby

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A victory in the House for federally funded stem-cell research represents a victory for the patients' lobby, comprised of people with personal reasons to hope for a scientific breakthrough.


The battle over funding for embryonic stem cell research is moving to the Senate. Yesterday the House passed a bill lifting restrictions on such funding, and President Bush is threatening a veto. NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr is following the debate.


How to explain the impressive, if not veto-free, victory in the House for federally financed stem cell research. In part, no doubt, because President Bush no longer commands, in his second term, the kind of domination of the issue that he had four years ago; in part, no doubt, because House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, facing an ethics investigation, no longer exercises enough control to keep the bill off the floor or to keep 50 Republicans from joining Democrats to vote for it.

But, in essence, this was a contest between the religious lobby and what one might call the patients' lobby, those with personal reasons to hope for a scientific breakthrough and not content to see American science outpaced by South Korea or Britain.

And so President Bush appeared before the cameras with his poster child, a one-month-old baby born as a result of a donated frozen embryo. But on the other side of the equation stood the universally respected Nancy Reagan, whose husband suffered from Alzheimer's disease. She was on the phone with Republican legislators urging support of research that might someday address such diseases. And in the House, among those who voted for the bill were Democrat Jim Langevin, who rolled up to the microphone in his motorized wheelchair to talk about his spinal cord injury, and Republican Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri telling of the young man, paralyzed in an automobile accident when he was 16 years old, who urged her not to vote against the bill.

Support for embryonic stem cell research also appears to be strong in the Senate, reflecting the 56 to 32 percent of Americans in a Pew Research Center poll who believe it more important to seek new medical cures than to avoid the loss of potential life of human embryos. And the irony of the week: Kansas Senator Sam Brownback indicated he would use a filibuster to block passage of the bill in the Senate. Rarely has the culture-of-life movement come up against so powerful a culture of science. This is Daniel Schorr.

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