REGRETTABLY, greatly expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was a big loser in the U.S. Senate Tuesday - and at the White House yesterday.
Though the legislation passed by a 63-37 margin, the vote that mattered most was President Bush's, a day later. The President kept his promise to veto the legislation, his first veto in 5 1/2 years in the White House. The Senate vote fell four votes short of the 67 needed to override the promised veto, and an override vote later failed in the House by 50 votes.
Nineteen Republicans voted to approve, but it wasn't enough. Among those against were both Ohio Senators, George Voinovich and Mike DeWine.
The President's veto is a shameful disregard of the potential benefit to humanity that stem cell research represents. Scientists believe it has the potential to cure diseases ranging from the Alzheimer's that felled former President Ronald Reagan to the diabetes that is rampant in the United States.
The special qualities of embryonic stem cells, which may grow into any tissue or organ of the body, give them more potential than adult stem cells drawn from blood or bone marrow. Five years ago, President Bush permitted federal funds to be used for research on embryonic stem cell lines that had been created before Aug. 9, 2001. But only 22 lines were usable, and some of those are deteriorating or contaminated.
Like many religious conservatives, President Bush objects to embryonic stem cell research because it requires destruction of a blastocyst, which is a clump of 100 or so cells that forms within a few days after a human sperm enters a human egg. There are about 400,000 blastocysts in the freezers of in vitro fertilization clinics.
Conservative Christians believe destroying blastocysts is murder. Embroynic stem cell research opponent Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, asked, "Is the youngest human a person or a piece of property?"
But that is the wrong question.
The real inquiry should be: Is a blastocyst a human being deserving the same protection as a newborn? Most Americans say no. The vast majority support embryonic stem cell research. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court, in legalizing abortion, already has decided that a blastocyst is not a human being.
The bill the Senate approved, as the House of Representatives did earlier, would have permitted federal money to pay for research on donated blastocysts that would otherwise be discarded.
To put it another way, a majority of the Senate accepted some destruction for research rather than stand by while the owners of those 400,000 unused frozen blastocysts give consent for technicians to dispose of them by washing them down stainless steel lab sinks.
If research is murder, what do we call flushing them away?
President Bush needs to acknowledge that no matter what he does, blastocysts will be destroyed. His veto makes no sense, though both houses will likely sustain it.
He should have signed this legislation and saved human lives.
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