President Bush used his first-ever veto Wednesday to stop expansion of federally funded stem-cell research.
Immediately afterward, the House killed an attempt to override that veto on a 235-193 vote, 51 short of the two-thirds majority needed.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah a leading supporter of the killed bill called Bush's veto and the failed override attempt a "terrible mistake" and offered a compromise that he hopes could soon lead to the research expansion he seeks.
Hatch said his "middle ground" proposal comes from the fact that back in 2001, Bush allowed federal funding of research that used 78 stem-cell lines then in existence, but no new ones. The senator said many of those lines have since become adulterated.
Hatch is now calling for Bush to do essentially the same thing again, and this time to allow use of 400 stem-cell lines that have been created privately, without directly using federal money to kill embryos to create other new stem-cell lines.
"If it was justified to support those lines (in 2001) because they were already in existence. . .then why wouldn't the same logic apply now to the 400 unadulterated stem-cell lines, so that they could do the research?" Hatch said.
But he answered his own question, by noting, "People on the extreme point of view on the other side would argue that even using existing stem-cell lines would lead to facilitating more stripping of cells from blastocysts," or killing more embryos to extract stem cells that can develop into virtually any tissue in the body.
Hatch said of Bush: "The only veto he has been willing to exercise up to this particular point is a veto against the most promising research ever devised to man. I think that's a terrible mistake."
The senator said stem-cell research could lead to cures for diseases such as cancer and diabetes, as well as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Diseases.
Less than 24 hours after the bill passed Congress, Bush used his first-ever veto to stop the measure, which would have allowed federal funding for research that removes stem cells from, and kills, frozen human embryos that were soon to be discarded anyway.
Bush announced his decision while surrounded by 18 families who had "adopted" frozen embryos not used by other couples. The families had used the embryos to have children.
"Each of these children was still adopted while still an embryo and has been blessed with a chance to grow, to grow up in a loving family," Bush said. "These boys and girls are not spare parts."
"They remind us of what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research. They remind us that we all begin our lives as a small collection of cells. And they remind us that in our zeal for new treatments and cures, America must never abandon our fundamental morals," Bush added.
He said the bill would have crossed a moral line and "once crossed, we would find it impossible to turn back."
Hatch said that while he supports Bush's desire for more adoptions of frozen embryos, "7,000 to 20,000 of them are destroyed each year. How can you allow 7,000 to 20,000 of these spare embryos to be destroyed a year, yet consider it murder to use them for research to benefit mankind? Either way, they are being destroyed."
Hatch said he had discussed his proposed compromise with the White House on Wednesday. "They didn't say they couldn't do it, but they didn't say they would either," he said. "This could be done tomorrow if the White House wanted to. But they need to think it through."
In the failed attempt to override the veto in the House, 51 Republicans joined 183 Democrats and one independent to seek the override, while 179 Republicans and just 14 Democrats opposed it. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, voted for the override but Reps. Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, opposed it.
Matheson said he sought the override because stem-cell research offers tremendous promise. "How long must people wait for these breakthroughs? I am disappointed that the president chose this bill as his first-ever veto target."
Cannon said, "We should never sacrifice life in the pursuit of science."
Bishop said, "If this bill was to become law, American taxpayers for the first time ever would be forced to pay for research that requires the destruction of human life. We should not cross this moral and ethical line, no matter how noble the end goal may appear."
Hatch and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, were among relatively few Republicans who supported the bill. Hatch argued that frozen embryos are not human life, unless they are implanted in a mother's womb.Bush has made 141 veto threats during his 5 1/2 years in office, and the Republicans controlling Congress typically respond by changing bills to his liking. Only Thomas Jefferson had served longer as president before first using his veto power.
Contributing: Associated Press