WASHINGTON - After a day of emotional, bipartisan debate that drew many members to the floor to speak, the House yesterday ignored an impassioned appeal from President Bush and voted 238-194 to permit federal dollars for medical research using stem cells derived from discarded human embryos taken from in-vitro fertilization clinics.
Supporters of using discarded embryos for stem cell research say it could provide one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of science, some day providing treatment or cures for diseases that affect 110 million Americans such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries. Opponents say using embryos is akin to abortion because it is taking human life and is immoral.
If the Senate votes with the House, as appears likely, Mr. Bush has vowed to veto the bill. The vote in the House indicates supporters of embryonic stem cell research as of now do not have enough votes to override a veto, which requires a two-thirds vote.
Mr. Bush has not vetoed any bill so far in his presidency.
He has gone the longest period of time without a veto of any other president since Thomas Jefferson, who had no vetoes, according to the Senate library.
Before the House vote, Mr. Bush said, "There is no such thing as a spare embryo. Every embryo is unique and genetically complete. These lives are not raw materials."
He met with 21 families whose children came from adopted embryos from couples who had in-vitro fertilization and did not need all their embryos, and he held a birthday party with cake for two of the children.
On Capitol Hill, supporters of federal money for more research met with patients and families of those who have suffered from such diseases as Parkinson's and cancer.
Among 150 children from around the country who lobbied Congress for passage of the bill was Jack Meyers, 12, of Toledo, who has Type 1 diabetes and represents the Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Jackie Hunt Christensen, a 41-year-old mother of two from Minneapolis, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the age of 33 and must take medicine every 90 minutes.
"An uninvited guest is taking over my body," she said, wondering if she will live to see her children graduate from high school.
Rep. Jim Langevin (D., R.I.), who has been in a wheelchair since age 16 because of a spinal injury, said there is no discrepancy between his position opposing abortion rights and his support for stem cell research.
"There's finally hope on the horizon," Mr. Langevin said.
The three-page bill that passed was introduced by Reps. Michael Castle (R., Del.) and Diana DeGette (D., Colo.).
Mr. Castle said that adult stem cells and stem cells from umbilical cord blood, which do not pose ethical dilemmas, do not offer enough hope of breakthrough for scientists.
He noted that $60 million has been spent but that scientists say they are blocked because they need to have more stem cell lines for their research.
On Aug. 9, 2001, President Bush blocked the use of federal tax dollars on any research on stem cells that were not from already existing lines to avoid the destruction of additional embryos.
However, scientists say only 22 of the 78 stem cell lines are usable and they are contaminated or too old.
Ms. DeGette stressed that her bill would not involve the use of any federal money for the destruction of embryos created for couples seeking to have children.
Once a couple have conceived a child, excess embryos must be discarded, kept for research, or donated to couples who want to adopt them.
Only embryos discarded by parents could be used for research, she said.
She said the bill would put ethical restraints on how stem cell lines may be created and forbids payment for embryos.
Rep. Henry Hyde (R., Ill.) said, "I myself am a 992-month-old embryo," arguing that embryos are not potential human beings but already are human beings.
Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas) said embryos don't have consciousness or free will.
"But if they did," Mr. Barton said, "wouldn't some of them volunteer to be the magic bullet [that provides a cure]?"
While 187 "yes" votes were from Democrats, 14 joined 180 Republicans voting against the bill.
One was Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), an ardent opponent of abortion rights, who said the bill should be defeated because there were no hearings on it and thus many questions, including ethical dilemmas posed by the bill, were not answered.
"We are debating the essence of human life, the creation of life and the destruction of life, how your family's DNA is propagated and bequeathed to the next generation," she said.
"My opinion about this bill is - not yet," Miss Kaptur said.
She said she is skeptical of the timing of the announcement last week that South Korean scientists cloned embryos for use in stem cell research.
There is a lot of money in such research, she said, adding she wants to know more about who would benefit.
Area members of Congress voting against more embryonic stem cell research were Miss Kaptur and Reps. Michael Oxley (R., Findlay) and Paul Gillmor (R., Tiffin).
Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn) and Joe Schwarz (R., Battle Creek) voted for it.
The House also passed a bill creating a federal databank for stem cells from the blood from umbilical cords for medical research, 430-1.
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