Bush Deploys First Veto On Stem Cells

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In a blow to groups hoping that greater availability of stem cell lines would speed the process of finding cures for degenerative diseases, President Bush used his first veto to reject a bill yesterday that would have expanded federal funds available for embryonic stem cell research.

Dozens of politicians from both sides of the aisle issued statements condemning the veto.

“It isn’t every day that we in Congress have the opportunity to save lives. That’s why it’s so disappointing that President Bush used his first veto on a bill that will help millions of Americans,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat of New York, said in a statement,

Mr. Bush stayed true to his 2001 promise that he would limit federal funding from the National Institutes of Health for research conducted on any future stem cell lines produced, and the veto was seen as a victory for some religious groups.

A vote in the House of Representatives last evening failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to overturn the veto. The bill passed the Senate on Tuesday.

“I believe our nation must vigorously pursue the tremendous possibility that science offers to cure disease and improve the lives of millions,” Mr. Bush said during a press conference, “yet we must also remember that embryonic stem cells come from human embryos. … Each of these human embryos is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value,” he said, surrounded by children who were born from frozen embryos.

For researchers and for people suffering from diseases such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s, stem cell research is seen as the best hope for finding cures.The stem cells addressed in the bill would come from embryos that would never develop into a child.

“It’s a very sad day for a lot of people,” a Brooklyn resident who was diagnosed with MS in 2001, Michele Maglione, said. “Living with a disease like MS that is chronic and degenerative and currently has no cure, it’s hope that gets you through the day. And to have some of that hope taken away is very upsetting. … I don’t know how my illness becomes so political,” she said.

The deputy vice president for community and governmental affairs at the Columbia University Medical Center, Ross Frommer, said stem cell research would continue at Columbia, but that the veto was a setback.”We have raised a good amount of money, enough that we can do top quality research, but the restrictions on using NIH funds make it difficult to move forward,” he said.

The scientific setback comes from the limits imposed by the restricted number of stem cell lines available. “The field of stem cells is hindered by not having the freedom of choosing the starting materials,” the chairman of the department of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, Dr. Ronald Crystal, said.

Stem cells from prior to 2001 are limited because some lines have been contaminated and can no longer be turned into human tissues needed to cure disease, a technique that scientists are trying to perfect. Dr. Crystal noted that the issue was a sensitive one, but that using embryonic stem cells was important because they had potential that adult stem cells, which are often used for research, do not.

“The challenge … is to do that in a way that is acceptable for our society. The challenge is coming to a common ground that enough people feel comfortable,” he said.

For some, embryonic stem cell research will never be acceptable. “We believe that life begins at conception and that therefore, it is wrong and immoral to … destroy these newly created lives in the process of embryonic stem cell research,” a spokesman for the Catholic archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling, said.

For others, Mr. Bush’s decision was a reflection of important considerations of moral issues. Agudath Israel of America, one of New York’s largest Orthodox Jewish groups, said it did not take a position on the bill because Jewish law does not have a straight answer to the issues raised, and because the bill did not have a direct effect on practice. But a spokesman for the organization, Rabbi Avi Shafran, praised “the fact that President Bush does not take a cavalier attitude toward a question of human life, and that he chose to come down on the side of caution rather than abandon.”

At the same time as the veto, Mr. Bush signed into law a bill, passed unanimously in both chambers, which banned the prospect of creating and aborting fetuses to be used solely for scientific study.


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