Stem Cell Policy Update On Tuesday, the House voted to widen federal support for research with human embryonic stem cells. President Bush has vowed to veto any bill that permits the destruction of human embryos.
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Stem Cell Policy Update

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Stem Cell Policy Update

Stem Cell Policy Update

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IRA FLATOW, host:

Up now is Diana DeGette. She's a representative from Colorado's 1st Congressional District in Denver and a Democratic chief deputy whip. She was co-sponsor of that bill in Congress for embryonic stem cells.

Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Representative DIANA DeGETTE (Democrat, Colorado): Great being with you again, Ira.

FLATOW: How do you feel about the way the bill is moving?

Rep. DeGETTE: Well, I'm very excited that we were able to pass the legislation and with strong bipartisan support, of course, mostly Democrats but also 50 Republicans, through the House. And we went over the next day and had a press conference with our Senate sponsors. They are really committed to passing this legislation, so that was very exciting.

FLATOW: Now, of course, you still have work to do, don't you?

Rep. DeGETTE: Yes. We have quite a bit of work to do. The main issue is the president's veto threat, so obviously we have quite a bit to do. But, boy, I was hearing Mark Noble talk a minute ago, and it just seems like the right thing to do. If there's a way that we could use embryos which will be discarded to help cure diseases that affect people who are alive now, that seems like it should be the moral thing to do as well as the scientific issue.

FLATOW: The bills lays out rules about which stem cell lines would be eligible for support, right? Not everything.

Rep. DeGETTE: That's right.

FLATOW: You can't use everything.

Rep. DeGETTE: Well, what we say is that embryos which are from in vitro fertilization techniques which are scheduled to be discarded, and where the donors give informed consent, then those could be used for the embryonic stem cell research. But as Mark was saying, that's quite a number of embryonic cells every year. So that would be more than sufficient for the research.

FLATOW: So we would basically widen the lines that are available but not allow for the creation of new cell lines, correct?

Rep. DeGETTE: We couldn't--well, we could create new cell lines from the embryos that are created and scheduled to be discarded. Right now what the president's policy says is you can only use the cell lines that were derived from embryos as of August 9th, 2001, and that's proven to be somewhere around 19 or 22 lines. Those lines are not only getting older, but they're all contaminated with mouse feeder cells.

FLATOW: Right.

Rep. DeGETTE: So they're not really very useful to the researchers.

FLATOW: What do you think is going to happen in the Senate?

Rep. DeGETTE: Well, we believe we have over 60 votes in the Senate, and we have strong bipartisan support there. Senator Hatch, Senator Specter, Senator Kennedy and Senator Harkin are leads in the Senate, and they're very committed to getting this passed. So this issue--I know the president's threatened to veto the bill, but he's threatened to veto campaign finance reform and other bills, too, and they were able to work out a resolution. So right now what we're focused on is passing it through the Senate.

FLATOW: Right.

Rep. DeGETTE: And we're going to put that pressure on.

FLATOW: Congresswoman DeGette, thank you very much for taking time to talk with us.

Rep. DeGETTE: Great to be with you. Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

Rep. DeGETTE: Thank you.

FLATOW: Diana DeGette is a representative from Colorado's 1st Congressional District in Denver and a Democratic chief deputy whip.

We're going to take a short break and come back and talk with Dr. Leon Kass, get his views on the issues, pick his brain about the ethics of all of this. He's certainly very experienced, very knowledgeable, so stay with us. We'll come back with Dr. Kass and your questions after this break.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

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