Brussels, 19 May 2005
The US is to put embryonic stem cell research to the vote again in the coming weeks. Representatives will vote on two competing measures, one aimed at loosening current restrictions, and one intended to encourage research on stem cells drawn from umbilical cord blood as an alternative to embryos.
In August 2001, US President George W Bush imposed new restrictions on the federal financing of embryonic stem cell research, permitting the government only to pay for studies on lines of stem cells created prior to August 2001. The move was intended to discourage the destruction of embryos.
A proposal by Republican Representative Michael Castle would roll back the restrictions, permitting the creation of new lines from embryos that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics. The bill has 201 co-sponsors from both the Democrat and Republican parties.
An alternative proposal will be put forward by Republican Representative Christopher Smith. Mr Smith would like to encourage research on a different type of stem cell, drawn from umbilical cord blood, by creating a national network of cord blood banks.
As the vote draws closer, interest groups on both sides are carrying out high profile campaigns. For example, one Republican group has been running television advertisements in support of the Castle bill, and the American bishops' chief representative on abortion has written to all members of Congress opposing the same bill on account of its provisions for the destruction of human embryos. 'I urge you in the strongest possible terms to oppose all destructive and morally offensive proposals of this kind,' wrote Cardinal Keeler.
The House's Majority Leader Tom DeLay has declared himself 'adamantly opposed' to the Castle proposal, but conceded that the increase in public support for stem cell research makes a vote necessary.
If either of the bills is passed by the House of Representatives, it will be passed on to the Senate, where it would either be passed or sent back to the Representatives for revision.