WASHINGTON The Senate approved two stem cell research bills Wednesday: one President Bush has promised to veto and one he would sign.
Utah's Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett voted in favor of both bills, with Hatch taking to the floor twice urging members to support the bill the White House does not favor.
Hatch co-sponsored a bill offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that lifts federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. The bill passed 63-34, but would need 67 votes to override Bush's promised veto.
The bill overturns a White House policy set in 2001 stating taxpayer money could only be used to study about 21 types of stem cells from human embryos, which limited government researchers to only a small portion of 400 proposed research projects.
The bill allows federal funding for work on cells from embryos donated by parents undergoing fertility treatments or those that would be thrown out by medical facilities. The House has passed a similar bill.
"This legislation crosses a moral line that would use taxpayer dollars to destroy human embryos, and that's a moral line the president said he would not cross, and for those reasons he would veto this bill," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. Bush has vetoed similar legislation before his only veto so far during his presidency.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who also co-sponsored the Reid bill, emphasized on the floor that the bill does not contain any federal money to destroy human embryos.
Meanwhile, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., introduced the second bill to limit any chance of human embryos being destroyed in the name of research.
"It is absolutely possible to further embryonic stem cell research today without destroying a viable embryo and have a plethora of available stem cells for researchers and for scientists," Isakson said. "This bill is a common-sense approach that protects and promotes the health of human life from conception to natural death."
The second bill banned any research on embryos unless they were "naturally dead." It also allows research on adult stem cells.
"Adult stem cells have no ethical strings attached," Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who opposed the Reid bill and wanted the federal funding diverted to adult stem cell research instead. The second bill passed 70-28 but the House has not passed this legislation.
Perino said that bill "supports the use and further development of stem cell research, but without harming or destroying embryos."
"This is a bill that the president strongly supports and he would sign it should it make it to his desk," she said.
Bennett said in a statement that stem cell research "provides great hope for the many Americans affected by debilitating diseases today."
"Federal involvement will not only help move this promising science forward, but it will ensure that it occurs under strict ethical and procedural guidelines," Bennett said.
Bennett said "the Coleman-Isakson compromise makes a lot of sense" and if the House opts to not take up the bill "it will be clear that they are playing politics with this very important issue."
In his floor speech, Hatch offered a top 10 list of reasons the bill should pass based on conversations he has had with University of Utah researcher Dr. Mario Capecchi one of the "true pioneers of embryonic stem cell research," Hatch said.
The reasons included everything from the potential to find cures for diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's and other illnesses to the fact embryonic stem cells grow faster than adult stem cells, which is beneficial for medical applications and for the "health and economic implications," which the senator called "enormous."
"Other countries have recognized this potential," Hatch said. "They are heavily investing in embryonic stem cell research. Our country is in grave danger of falling behind in one of the most promising fields of biomedical research."
Hatch emphasized that he has a "long, proud and strong record as a right-to-life Senator" but that he can still support the bill.
"Because I do not consider a frozen embryo to be a human life until is implanted in a woman's uterus," Hatch said. "(The bill) allocates federal research funding to embryonic stem cells derived from frozen embryos that are to be discarded. In fact, thousands of such embryos are routinely discarded each year."
Hatch admitted that some Utah residents object to his support of stem-cell research but that since he came out in favor of it in 2001, "the majority of Utahns and the majority of Americans have come to support the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research conducted under ethical guidelines."
Hatch said during this floor speech that there has been a "steady stream" of Utah constituents who have come to his office with various diseases urging him to continue to support stem cell research.
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