The House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday to lift President Bush’s limits on federal embryonic stem cell research, making good on a campaign pledge by Democrats after the president vetoed the same legislation last year.
But the 253-174 vote, and the Senate’s expected passage of the bill soon, will likely be moot.
Bush has promised to veto the bill again. And while last November’s elections brought more supporters of embryonic stem cell research to Congress, the House vote Thursday still fell about three dozen votes shy of the two-thirds margin needed to override a veto.
Thirty-seven Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill; 16 Democrats joined Republicans in opposition. Last year, House supporters counted a peak of 238 votes.
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research, which scientists hope will unlock treatments for juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries and other diseases, praised what they saw as progress.
“Here we are again, and here we’re going to come time after time until this bill passes,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who cosponsored the legislation with Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del. “This bill will become law, and we will not tire in our efforts until it does.”
Human organisms are called embryos up to the third month after conception, according to Webster’s Dictionary. The legislation would lift the restriction against research on embryos that were collected for in vitro fertilization, provided they were not needed and slated to be destroyed.
Opponents, including the president, said the destruction of embryos involved in the research is immoral, tantamount to abortion. They acknowledged that the research is being funded privately and by taxpayers in a growing number of states, but they said that when it comes to allowing federal funding on new embryonic stem cell lines, they would continue to say no.
“It is never, never justifiable to deliberately end a life,” said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.
Opponents also pointed to breakthroughs in amniotic stem cell research, saying it could one day render embryonic research needless.
“A good deal has changed in the world of science,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas.
Supporters insist that amniotic cells aren’t a substitute for embryonic cells, which scientists believe to be the most adaptable in terms of their ability to grow into various specialized functions.
In 2001, Bush banned federal funding for research on new embryonic stem cell lines. Since then, Castle said, 78 lines thought to be available have shrunk to 22, and all are compromised.
Worldwide, more than 150 new lines have been created, but researchers can’t tap the biggest resource — federal dollars — to study them.
Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., an anti-abortion lawmaker, told colleagues that the issue wasn’t black and white. Paralyzed in his youth in an accidental shooting, he said he believes embryonic stem cell research may be his best hope of walking again.
“Being pro-life also has to be about caring about those people who are living among us,” he said. “That’s what the promise of stem cell research offers.”