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House passes stem cell bill

January 11, 2007

As promised by Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives, a bill was passed today outlining initiatives to increase federal aid for embryonic stem cell research. Evidently, the recent breakthroughs in amniotic stem cell research was not enough to prevent 253 representatives from voting for the bill. The bright side to this is that the bill did not achieve the two-thirds majority required to prevent vetoing by the president. You can read the CNN report here.

As you may recall, President Bush vetoed a similar bill passed by the a Republican-held Senate last September. Bush has indicated that he would veto any bill passed by Congress calling for the loosening of federal money for embryonic stem cell research. Let us pray that Bush “stays the course” and shoots this bill down.

In light of today’s bill, it is important to remember that this is not simply the result of Democratic power in Congress. Republican leaders last year pushed hard for the Stem Cell Research Act and even attempted to override Bush’s veto by House vote, which required a two-thirds majority. Fortunately and, I trust, providentially, the Republican-led attempt fell short of that requirement by a vote of 235-193. After Bush’s veto, Republican Senator Bill Frist stated publicly: “I am pro-life, but I disagree with the president’s decision to veto the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. 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.” One may be so audacious to ask Sen. Frist what precisely is the difference is between the value of an embryo in a mother’s womb and that of an embryo in a science lab.

What baffles me is why the question of ends justifying means is avoided by Democrat and Republican supporters of embryonic stem cell research. Those of us opposed to such research understand the possibility of numerous health benefits and medical research that may come from the research, yet we also understand that the means for such progress is entirely unethical and undignified. The fact that scientists have qualified their projections as hypothetical seems to be a non-issue in many political circles. Even though the hoped-for breakthroughs may not come in the end, there is nevertheless a draconian crusade bent on “creating” and destroying human embryos, just to see what may come of it.

What I find equally enigmatic is the desire of many politicians to compromisingly divide the country across ethical and political lines when alternatives in research that may carry the same possibilities for progress are available. Scientific study groups at Harvard University and Wake Forest University released their report on amniotic stem cell research just last week, much to the praise of Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care. Republican Representative Phil Gingery, an obstetrician, stated earlier this week, “We don’t have to split the nation on this if we’ve got an alternative.” Yet, Democrat Senator Tom Harkin responded to news of the report with: “If we truly want to cure and treat diseases that afflict so many people in this country, our nation’s top scientists should be allowed to pursue stem cell research of all kinds, be it embryonic, adult or amniotic.” For politicians such as Harkin, it appears that the sheer quantity of research trumps any concern for quality and ethics of research.

In response to the passing of today’s bill, Republican Minority Leader John Boener stated: “I support stem cell research with only one exception — research that requires killing human life. Taxpayer-funded stem cell research must be carried out in an ethical manner in a way that respects the sanctity of human life. Fortunately, ethical stem cell alternatives continue to flourish in the scientific community.”

It’s nice to know that at least some in Congress are actually paying attention to the scientific world and to ethical issues.

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