House votes to ease limits on stem cell study

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives voted yesterday to send legislation that would relax limits on embryonic stem cell research to the White House, where it faced a certain veto by President Bush.

The vote was 247-176 - 35 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for Congress to make the bill a law over the president's objections.

The Senate passed the stem cell bill in April by a vote of 63-34, with three senators absent. All three are Democrats who have pledged to support the bill, but even with their votes, the Senate would be one vote shy of the necessary two-thirds majority to override a Bush veto.

Yesterday's House debate was familiar, with opponents of stem cell research arguing that it is immoral to destroy human embryos to harvest cells. Advocates counter that fertility clinics grow more embryos than prospective parents want and that the extras routinely are thrown out.

Bush, in Germany for the Group of Eight summit, issued a statement promising to veto the stem cell bill, which is similar to one he vetoed last year. "American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos," he said.

Bush noted that three groups of researchers reported a day earlier that they had reprogrammed cells from the tips of mouse tails to behave in a virtually identical fashion to embryonic stem cells.

If the new technique applies to human skin - and researchers expressed confidence that it would - stem cells could be obtained without limit and without the ethical constraints that have slowed such research in the United States.

Stem cells have the unique ability to generate all types of cells in the body. Researchers and patients hope that stem cells will give rise to cells that can be used to treat conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and spinal injury.

Proponents of embryonic stem cell research say that only the stem cells found in embryos can provide the kinds of cells that could potentially treat disease. Others argue that bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and skin can do the same job without requiring the sacrifice of an embryo.

"This offers great hope," said Rep. Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat, a quadriplegic as a result of an accidental shooting.

Among Maryland House members, Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest joined Democratic Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Chris Van Hollen and Albert R. Wynn in voting to loosen restraints on embryonic stem cell research.

"We have a moral obligation to provide our scientific community with the tools it needs to save lives, and this legislation accomplishes exactly that," Hoyer, the House majority leader, said before the vote. "This legislation represents the hope of millions of Americans who are waiting for us to take action."

Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett was the sole Marylander to vote against the bill. Bartlett, who holds a doctorate in human physiology, has encouraged research that does not require the destruction of human embryos.

"The science has advanced much faster than the political debate in Congress," he said. "It is not necessary to sacrifice the life of human embryos to obtain cells that could become embryonic stem cell lines."

Joel Havemann writes for the Los Angeles Times. Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown contributed to this article.

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