Senate Backs Measure to Find Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternatives

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 18, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Backs Measure to Find Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternatives Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 18, 2006

Washington, DC ( — The federal government would be instructed to look into avenues to find embryonic stem cells without the destruction of days-old unborn children in a bill the Senate approved Tuesday afternoon. Leading pro-life advocates supported the bill saying that it would promote more alternatives making embryonic stem cell research unnecessary.

The Senate approved the measure on a 100-0 vote, and the House is expected to take it up soon and sent it to President Bush for his signature.

During the Senate debate leading up to the vote, pro-life Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, explained the need for the measure.

Santorum responded to critics of the measure who said it would do nothing and was not an alternative to embryonic stem cell research.

He said Congress frequently instructs the federal government about the proper direction of science or medicine. While detractors said the government could pursue these alternatives, Santorum said it was different to instruct federal officials to do that.

Santorum said the need for alternatives is "important enough that we put it in statute and direct the funding."
"We are directing the NIH to invest money in developing alternatives to the destruction of the human embryo for the obtaining of pluripotent stem cells," Santorum said. "We’re instructing the government to look at these particular areas and others and you shall do research in this area and look for alternatives.

Santorum said that sixteen studies published already are looking at methods of obtaining embryonic stem cells for research which won’t harm the human embryo.

A handful of pro-life advocates accused pro-life groups of "selling out" by supporting the bill. They say it supports a method of trying to obtain stem cells proposed by Stanford University scientist William Hurlbut that some say may still harm human embryos.

However, most pro-life groups back the measure and say it does not endorse the Hurlbut method in its attempt to find embryonic stem cell research alternatives.

"S. 2754 simply pushes the federal research establishment to try to find ways to develop pluripotent stem cells without creating or harming human embryos," National Right to Life legislative director Douglas Johnson told

"It does not endorse the particular method proposed by Dr. Hurlbut or any other particular method," Johnson explained.

Johnson added that the Santorum legislation couldn’t authorize the federal government to pursue research that destroyed human life because of previous federal law.

He indicated the Santorum bill "does incorporate the Dickey Amendment, which is the law that bans federal funding of research in which human embryos are harmed, and which appropriately defines the term ’embryo."

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also supported the bill and encouraged both Catholics and Congressional lawmakers to back it.

Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, head of pro-life activities for the USCCB, said “the effort to explore all feasible avenues of research that do not attack human life is worth pursuing.”

"This bill does not fund research using human embryos and references a careful definition of ‘human embryo’ … that has served the cause of ethical research well,” Cardinal Keeler explained, referring to the Dickey amendment.

Keeler added, "In the case of any technique whose nature is uncertain, the bill provides for additional basic and animal research to make certain that the technique does not create or harm human embryos before it can be applied to humans."

"In short, it defines a clear and responsible policy that should be supported by defenders of the sanctity of human life," Cardinal Keeler concluded.

Meanwhile, Family Research Council spokesman Dr. David Prentice, a former biology professor at Indiana State University, said the Santorum bill "does not violate ethical principles and such research is currently allowed. Senators should vote for this bill instead of the embryo destruction bill."

The National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, the Susan B. Anthony List and Christian Life Resources, among others, supported the Santorum bill.