What: All Issues : Aid to Less Advantaged People, at Home & Abroad : The Chronically Ill : S 5. Allowing the use of federal funds for new embryonic stem cell research/On passage of the bill (2007 senate Roll Call 127)
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S 5. Allowing the use of federal funds for new embryonic stem cell research/On passage of the bill
senate Roll Call 127     Apr 11, 2007
Progressive Position:
Yea
Progressive Result:
Win

This vote was on Senate passage of a bill that would allow the use of federal funds for research on embryonic stem cells. In essence, the bill would undo the administration's Aug. 9, 2001 directive preventing federal funds from being used for new embryonic stem cell research projects. (Research efforts already underway on stem cells derived from embryos are allowed to continue, but stem cell research on new embryos is prohibited.)

The Senate moved this bill simultaneously with another bill (S 30) that would allow federal funding to be used for stem cell research, as long as it doesn't result in the destruction of human embryos, a key Republican complaint.

Embryonic stem cells are obtained from surplus embryos that have been fertilized outside the womb ("in vitro") at a clinic and then donated for research. These embryos are considered "surplus" because a woman may extract many embryos in an effort to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization, but only have one of those embryos eventually implanted in her womb. The rest of these embryos would normally be discarded.

The bill would require that stem cells used for research be obtained from surplus embryos at in vitro fertilization clinics. Donors must have given their consent to have the surplus embryos used in stem cell research, and must not have been reimbursed for making them available.

The fight over whether or not to encourage more embryonic stem cell research is emotional and high-profile. Expanding stem cell research was considered one of Democrats' top priorities in 2007 -- indeed, pushing bills such as this one through to passage was one of the new Democratic leadership's first actions upon taking the reins of power on Capitol Hill. This bill is identical to one that President Bush vetoed in 2006. He again threatened a veto against this bill.

President Bush and other conservatives do not oppose stem cell research in general, but feel that extracting them from embryos is tantamount to abortion and should be off-limits. This is because religious groups and pro-life groups believe that life begins at the moment of conception. Thus, they feel that since these embryos have been fertilized, they are a potential life that should not be destroyed even to perform lifesaving research. Instead, they would prefer to see other scientific methods used, such as extracting stem cells from umbilical cords or amniotic fluid.

"Stem cell research holds tremendous opportunities for our society to help treat and cure people's diseases and illnesses; and some would like to extend the success found through federally funded adult stem cell research to embryonic research. They have proposed that we harvest these human embryos -- which were created with the knowledge that many of them would be destroyed -- to be used for research," said Mel Martinez, R-Fla. "While I, and others, understand the great need, we also know that there has to be a better way. In fact, I know there is."

Democrats and others who advocate for more stem cell research believe that treatments derived from embryonic stem cells may lead to cures for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

"For years, many of us have fought the same battle, the battle to give those suffering or injured every ethical option for new cures. For those speaking on the Senate floor, perhaps little changes from one year's debate to the next," said Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. "But for those who listen to our debate, a year can make all the difference in the world. For a young man or woman bravely serving their country, a year can make the difference between vigorous active service and life in a wheelchair or a brain injury from a war wound."

The Senate passed the bill with a vote of 63-34, defying Bush's veto threat. The vast majority of Democrats supported the measure, though two voted against it: Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who frequently disagrees with his party over abortion issues. The Republican caucus was more fractured, with 32 voting against the bill, and 17 voting for it. (Though the fight is highly partisan, it does cross party lines in some cases, particularly for those who have been personally affected by a degenerative disease. For instance Nancy Reagan, who watched former President Ronald Reagan struggle with Alzheimer's, is an advocate for more embryonic stem cell research.) Thus, the Senate passed the bill that would allow for expanded federal research into embryonic stem cells.

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