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Senate Clears Stem Cell Bill

Congress moves to expand embryonic stem cell policy

by Susan R. Morrissey
April 16, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 16

By a vote of 63 to 34, the Senate cleared legislation that would increase the number of human embryonic stem cell lines eligible to be used in federally funded research. The bill (S. 5) is similar to one passed by the House in January (C&EN, Jan. 15, page 12). The Senate and the House are expected to work out a compromise bill that will be sent quickly to President George W. Bush.

The Senate bill, like the House version, would allow researchers to use federal funds to study stem cell lines derived from embryos that were originally created for fertility treatment but are no longer needed and are scheduled to be discarded. The Senate version gives NIH expanded oversight of human embryonic stem cell research.

"S. 5 takes off the handcuffs" from researchers in terms of the number of stem cell lines available by allowing them to "use, under ethical guidelines, those embryos that are slated to be discarded," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Harkin, along with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), led the charge in the Senate for expanding the federal policy in this area.

Immediately after the vote, Bush reiterated his intent to veto this bill, just as he vetoed similar legislation last July. "This bill crosses a moral line that I and many others find troubling," he said in a statement. "If it advances all the way through Congress to my desk, I will veto it."

Leaders from both houses have pledged to override a veto. "We can't decide what we do around here because a president—any president—threatens to veto something," Harkin said. Supporters of the bill are optimistic that they can get the necessary two-thirds vote in the Senate; however, it is not clear if the House has the necessary votes.

In addition to S. 5, the Senate also passed an alternative stem cell bill (S. 30), known as the Hope Act, which has White House support. That legislation calls for intensifying research on ways to derive pluripotent stem cells without destroying viable embryos.



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