WASHINGTON—President Bush vowed Friday to veto bipartisan legislation that would ease restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and expressed deep concern about human cloning research in South Korea.
The veto threat sets up a potential showdown between the president and the House of Representatives, which could vote as early as next week on a stem cell bill. The bill would permit federal funding for research on stem cells taken from days-old embryos stored in freezers at fertility clinics.
The issue pits those like Bush, who believe stem cell research verges on scientists immorally taking embryonic life, against people who say such stem cells come from abandoned embryos and can, through research, save lives by advancing medical science.
Human embryonic stem cells can develop into many different cell types in the body, according to the National Institutes of Health. They are isolated from human embryos that are a few days old and can be used to create stem cell lines—cell cultures that can be grown indefinitely in a laboratory. Scientists can use the stem cell lines in transplantation or for treatment of diseases.
Bush, after lengthy deliberation, placed limits in 2001 on federal funding for research on lines of embryonic stem cells that already had been collected.
"I 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," Bush said Friday during a White House photo session with Danish Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen. "And therefore, if that bill does that, I will veto it."
In his fifth year in office, Bush has yet to veto any bill. This one, authored by Reps. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., has nearly 200 House members as co-sponsors. Supporters have launched ads using the words of former first lady Nancy Reagan, who favors expanded research.
Stem cell research proponents believe that it holds the potential to help find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's, which killed President Reagan; paralysis, which led to actor Christopher Reeve's death; and juvenile diabetes.
Even some abortion foes, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have spoken strongly in favor of the House bill and are pressing for a similar measure in the Senate.
"I think we can get it to the floor one way or another," Hatch said.
The House measure faces opposition from some conservatives, such as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and religious groups, who say the research is immoral because the embryo is destroyed in the process.
"This is a big deal," said Dr. Dennis Steindler, executive director of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida. "If this gets vetoed and no additional (embryonic stem cell) lines are easily and readily available, that could impact discoveries made in the United States. If the federal government can't produce the additional funding, that could impact progress in the field."
Bush and others worry that such potential advances would come at the expense of morality. The president fretted Friday over news that South Korean scientists have developed a way of producing human embryos through cloning.
"I'm very worried about cloning," he said. "I worry about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable."
Bush used the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington to reaffirm his positions on these questions. Praising the late Pope John Paul II, Bush said: "The best way to honor this champion of human freedom is to continue to build a culture of life where the strong protect the weak."
For more information on the embryonic stem cell debate, visit www.whitehouse.gov, www.house.gov/degette and http://stemcells.nih.gov/index.asp
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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