President Bush has threatened to veto legislation aimed at loosening US goverment restrictions on stem cell research. Supporters of the offending bill - which is due to come before both the House of Representatives and the Senate shortly - believe that the vote will be close. If both approve it, then only a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate could override a presidential veto - an outcome thought unlikely by Republicans.
According to Reuters, Bush told reporters last Friday: "I've made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life - I'm against that. And therefore if the bill does that, I will veto it."
While this stance finds favour among Christian and other groups opposed to all forms of stem cell research, the bill's supporters are dismayed by Bush's pronouncement. Republican Representative Mike Castle of Delaware - who together with Democratic Representative Diane DeGette of Colorado are sponsoring the bill in the House of Representatives - stressed: "Under no circumstances does this legislation allow for the creation of embryos for research nor does it fund the destruction of embryos."
DeGette added that she was "disappointed at Bush's veto threat against a bill that holds promise for cures to diseases that affect millions of Americans," a lament echoed by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada who said: "President Bush has made the wrong choice, putting politics ahead of safe, responsible science."
And so the stem cell controversy rumbles on. In 2001, Bush put a stop to any further federal-funded stem cell research outside that on the already-existing 78 lines. However, some or all of these are thought to be useless after contamination with animal genetic material, as we reported back in January.
In March of this year, the UN general assembly voted 84 to 34 in favour of a nonbinding statement calling for a total ban on human cloning. This cut little ice with countries such as the UK, who pledged to continue with "therapeutic cloning" regardless. South Korea also voted nay, and a team from Seoul National University last week said it had "successfully produced stem cells by cloning embryos that are genetically identical to specific individuals".
This latest breakthrough prompted Bush to declare: "I'm very concerned about cloning. I worry about a world in which cloning would be acceptable."
But while Bush may have some legitimate cause to be concerned about possible abuses of stem cell and therapeutic cloning techniques, governments who have pledged to continue with stem cell work have stressed that they will not allow the cloning of human beings. Indeed, UK health secretary John Reid has stressed: "Reproductive cloning is already illegal in the UK. Anyone attempting it in this country faces a 10-year prison sentence and unlimited fine."
Back on the political frontline, meanwhile, Diane DeGette claimed: "Support for expanding federal stem cell research in an ethical manner remains strong in Congress. We do not believe that the president's statement today will impact the vote count on the bill scheduled for the floor next week." ®
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