Thoughts of an American Centrist

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act has the Votes

Backers of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act are claiming to have the votes necessary to pass this legislation. Says the Chicago Sun-Times:

Now a bill that appears close to passage in the U.S. House would allow couples to donate such embryos to federally funded stem cell researchers.

On Monday, three moderate Republicans held a hearing in Chicago on the bill and predicted it will pass when it comes to a vote, probably before Memorial Day

The Bill is a very short one, which is nice for us lay-people. Of particular note are the restrictions placed on the Stem Cells to be harvested:

`(b) Ethical Requirements- Human embryonic stem cells shall be eligible for use in any research conducted or supported by the Secretary if the cells meet each of the following:
      `(1) The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.
      `(2) Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded.
      `(3) The individuals seeking fertility treatment donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving any financial or other inducements to make the donation.
As you can see, only discarded IVF embryos are included. In addition, full written consent is assured. Neither of these restrictions would seem to hamper supply because:

"I get calls every week from patients asking how to donate," said Sean Tipton of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. "They would like to help, but often can't."

One possible bit on controversy not addressed by either the Bill or the Chicago Sun-Times article is the fact that the bill puts no restrictions on the age of the embryos to be harvested. According to Gayle Atteberry, Orin Hatch has a bill out that:

would make it a crime to keep the human embryo alive past 14 days. Why a 14-day limit? Because after 14 days, the body axis and central nervous system begin to take form. By 21 days, the embryo's heart starts beating.

Hatch's bill deals with a ban on cloning to gather stem cells, but the same developmental considerations would still apply.

So, one has to ask, if this bill makes it through the House, would it face a battle in the Senate because of the lack of time limit? If the time limit is a problem, the Senate would most likely draft its own version of the Bill, and the restriction would be added in a conference committee. That is all standard fare unless Bill Frist detonates the nuclear option, and Harry Reid puts the breaks on all Senate business.

That being said, I seriously doubt that Reid would block up Senate business on a Stem Cell bill simply because it makes great political hay. Imagine the campaign ads that will fly if the bill passes and President Bush vetoes it, as he is expected to! If this bill makes it and is vetoed, expect Blue State Republicans to be shaking in their shoes come next November.

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