Senate Won’t Debate Embryonic Stem Cell Research During Health Week

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 5, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Won’t Debate Embryonic Stem Cell Research During Health Week Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 5, 2006

Washington, DC ( — Responding to a letter from Senate Democrats on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said it is unlikely that a debate on a bill to spend taxpayer funds on embryonic stem cell research will occur next week. Democrats who want to overturn President Bush’s limits on funding the unproven research wanted a vote on the bill during a special "health week" dedicated to legislation on other issues.

Still, Frist said he expected a vote on embryonic stem cell research sometime this year, though the bill to overturn the president’s limits could be combined with votes on other measures.

"There are a lot of ideas percolating. … I want there to be a respectful debate," he said, according to a Reuters report.

Having a vote on several bills may be one of the few points on which both sides agree — as the Democrats’ letter suggested to Frist that a vote occur on three measures.

They want a vote on the funding bill, but also two bills related to human cloning — including a pro-life measure sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, which would ban all forms of human cloning and another by California Democrat Diane Feinstein which allows human cloning for research purposes.

If Frist doesn’t bring up the funding measure, one of its leading sponsors, Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, said he plans to add the measure onto another bill as an amendment.

"Further delay will mean more lost opportunities for new cures and new treatments," leading Democrats claimed in their letter to Frist, even though embryonic stem cell research is nowhere close to helping patients.

In August 2001, President Bush put limits in place preventing taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for any new embryonic stem cell research. The federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on research using adult stem cells, that have already produced dozens of treatments for various diseases and conditions.

Last May, the House approved the legislation despite a veto threat by the president but the Senate has never voted on it.

The letter to Frist is authored by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Harkin, and was signed by most Democrats in the chamber. However, no Republicans appear on the letter, even though some, such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, are lead sponsors of the measure.

Any vote on funding embryonic stem cell research would follow on the heels of an international scandal involving South Korean and one American researcher who fabricated the results of studies supposedly advancing the science.

Richard Doerflinger, the deputy director of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a bioethics watchdog, says there are scientific, political and moral lessons to be learned about the South Korea scandal.

Doerflinger explained that the scientific lesson is not to trust claims that human cloning has been successful, pointing to false claims in years past.

Politically, Doerflinger said human cloning and embryonic stem cell research shouldn’t get a free pass — especially since the research has yet to make any progress in curing or helping people.

“The political agenda for cloning has long been divorced from the facts,” he said.

"To win public support and government funding, advocates for human cloning and ESC (embryonic stem cell) research have long made hyped claims and exaggerated promises to legislators and the public," Doerflinger explained.