President Bush on Wednesday as expected vetoed a bill (S 5) that would have allowed federal funding for research using stem cells derived from human embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients, the Washington Post reports (Fletcher, Washington Post, 6/21). Bush also issued an executive order to NIH asking scientists to pursue research on stem cells that "are derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus," the Los Angeles Times reports (Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, 6/21).
Federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research currently is allowed only for research using embryonic stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, under a policy announced by Bush on that date. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 passed the House 247-176 and the Senate 63-34. Several House Republicans who voted against the measure cited new research reported earlier this month by three independent teams of scientists. The teams said they have developed experimental approaches using the skin cells of mice to create embryonic stem cells without creating or destroying embryos.
White House spokesperson Tony Fratto on Wednesday said that Bush will outline a program that could allow research that creates additional "pluripotent" stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells can develop into all types of tissues in the body and have the potential to repair and restore tissue. Two senior Bush administration officials said the president also plans to reconfigure the embryonic stem cell lines currently eligible for federally funded research as the "human pluripotent stem cell registry." Bush administration officials said the White House also has been encouraged by recent stem cell research using amniotic fluid and embryos that had been declared "clinically dead" (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 6/20).
Bush's Veto Message
"The Congress has sent me legislation that would compel American taxpayers, for the first time in our history, to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos," Bush said in his veto message, the Post reports (Washington Post, 6/21). He said, "I made it clear to Congress and to the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line" (Kellman, AP/Houston Chronicle, 6/21). Bush said, "Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical -- and it is not the only option before us," adding, "Researchers are now developing promising new techniques that offer the potential to produce pluripotent stem cells without having to destroy human life" (Los Angeles Times, 6/21).
Senators', Presidential Candidates' Reaction
"Last year, the Republican-controlled House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to open up the hope of stem cell research to the millions of Americans," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said, adding, "Now a year has passed, and our best scientists continue to work with one hand tied behind their back" (Los Angeles Times, 6/21).
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said, "This is just one example of how the president puts ideology before science, politics before the needs of our families -- just one more example of how out of touch with reality he and his party have become" (Washington Post, 6/21). Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who also is running for the Democratic nomination, in a statement said that the voters deserve a president who "will make this promise real for the American people" (Stolberg, New York Times, 6/21). Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) supported Bush's veto, saying, "We can and must find cutting-edge techniques to cure disease and ease suffering without destroying life" (Jackson, USA Today, 6/21).
Veto Override, Proposed Provision
The Senate Labor and HHS Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday is expected to consider a spending bill that includes a provision to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell lines derived after Bush's 2001 deadline, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said, CQ Today reports. Specter said the provision is consistent with Bush's position, which he described as "once the embryos are destroyed, it's OK to fund research on them." The provision likely would be vetoed because of its changes in the deadline and the spending level, according to CQ Today. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and House Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) at a news conference declined to say whether they would try to include a similar provision in the House version of the Labor-HHS-Education spending measure but added that they plan to attach provisions similar to the vetoed bill to future "must-pass" bills.
Supporters of the measure in the Senate now will seek to override the president's veto. Jim Manley, spokesperson for Reid, said the vote will not occur before Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) appoints a replacement for the late Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), who died June 4. Thomas opposed the Enhancement Act, and supporters of the legislation are believed to be one vote short of the two-thirds required to override a presidential veto (CQ Today, 6/20).
The Wyoming Republican Central Committee has selected three candidates -- state Sen. John Barrasso, Cheyenne-based attorney Tom Sansonetti, and former state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis to fill Thomas' seat. Barrasso and Sansonetti would not comment on how they would vote on stem cell research, and Lummis could not be reached for comment, the AP/Billings Gazette reports (AP/Billings Gazette, 6/20).
Several broadcast programs reported on the veto and related issues. Summaries appear below.