Senate Opens Fierce Debate on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding Bill

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 17, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Opens Fierce Debate on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding Bill Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 17, 2006

Washington, DC ( — The Senate opened debate on embryonic stem cell research on Monday with a ferocious battle between those who want to spend federal taxpayer funds on embryonic stem cell research and those who say adult stem cell research provides more hope for patients suffering from a wide range of diseases.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who brokered the agreement that led to today’s debate and tomorrow’s vote, said he supports a bill to overturn President Bush’s limits on tax funds for embryonic research.

"I feel that the limit on cell lines available for federally funded research is too restrictive," Frist said.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, also led off the debate Monday by attacking pro-life advocates who say embryonic stem cell research is morally wrong because it entails the destruction of human life.

Specter likened pro-life advocates and opponents of the funding bill to science skeptics of centuries past that denied the Earth revolved around the fund or thought electricity wouldn’t have much promise for mankind.

He did that "to show how attitudes at different times in retrospect look foolish, look absolutely ridiculous."

But pro-life lawmakers who oppose the funding bill said adult stem cell research science is showing plenty of results and human embryos don’t need to be destroyed — especially since it has yet to cure a single patient.

"We do not need to treat humans as raw material," Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican said Monday. "It is immoral for us to do it."

"The government should not be in the business of funding this ethically troubling research with taxpayer dollars,” Brownback said.

Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, said the Senate needed a reality check on whether Americans support embryonic stem cell research funding. Several senators pointed to a poll from a biotech lobbying firm claiming 72 percent of Americans back the funding.

However, Coburn said the poll’s wording was misleading and that when other surveys directly ask Americans whether they want their money to be used to pay for destroying human life for research, a majority say no.

"We ought to be truthful about what the polling actually says," Coburn explained. "If you specifically say what we’re doing, the results are very different."

Whatever Americans think about embryonic stem cell research, they will be confronted with political campaigns this fall featuring ads attacking lawmakers who opposed the funding bill.

Some lawmakers made specific threats about what those ads will say about pro-life lawmakers.

Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, warned that those who oppose the bill will be shown as opposing helping finding cures for patients.

"Unless a senator votes for H.R. 810, he or she will not have voted for this meaningful life-giving research," he said.

The Senate will vote on the funding bill and two other measures on Tuesday afternoon. The other measures include a bill to prohibit the practice of "fetal farming" and another to encourage the federal government to seek ways of obtaining embryonic stem cells that does not involve the destruction of the embryos.