President George W. Bush issued the first veto of his presidency to strike down a bill that would have expanded current federal policy on embryonic stem cell research. The veto came less than 24 hours after the Senate passed the House-approved Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (H.R. 810).
The bill, which passed the House last May, would have removed some federal restrictions and allowed federally funded research to include stem cell lines created ethically from excess in vitro fertilization embryos scheduled to be discarded as medical waste. Researchers have advocated such an expansion of federally approved research because the 21 cell lines currently approved for study have become contaminated by mouse feeder cells and cannot be used in humans.
Bush reiterated his belief that the current policy, which he set in August 2001, is sufficient to allow research to move forward with only the cell lines derived before the policy was in place. According to Bush, H.R. 810 "would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others."
Congressional supporters of the bill expressed frustration with the President's action. "I am obviously disappointed and upset by the President's veto today," said the bill's coauthor, Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.).
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was also upset. "I am pro-life, but I disagree with the President's decision to veto" H.R. 810, he said. "Given the potential of this research and the limitations of the existing lines eligible for federally funded research, I think additional lines should be made available."
Immediately following Bush's rejection, the House attempted to override the veto but fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority. Castle and his colleagues have pledged to continue their efforts in this area.