Bill to Force Embryonic Research Funding Gets New GOP Backer

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 29, 2011   |   11:56AM   |   Washington, DC

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, is re-introducing her bill today to force taxpayers to finance embryonic stem cell research and the legislation is getting the support of a Republican who is becoming the top GOP lawmakers to back it.

The legislation is designed to expand President Barack Obama’s decision to force taxpayers to fund embryonic stem cell research and it could pave the way for a battle over federal restrictions on research destroying human embryos.

DeGette says the bill is designed to codify Obama’s executive order — which would prevent a future pro-life president from overturning it. Instead of issuing a subsequent executive order, a future pro-life president would be forced to rely on Congress to approve a bill putting the Bush protections back in place.

Previous versions of the bill, which was vetoed twice by pro-life President George W. Bush, had pro-abortion Republican Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware as the chief GOP lawmaker pushing the legislation. Now, according to a new report in The Hill, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent is taking his place as the lead Republican co-sponsor. Dent has a mixed record on abortion according to the National Right to Life Committee — having voted against Obamacare and taxpayer funding of abortions but voting to fund the Planned Parenthood abortion business and for using taxpayer funds to do abortion training.

Although embryonic stem cell research has never helped a single patient and causes tumors when used in animals and prompts immune system rejection issues, Dent told The Hill, “This area of research is important to finding critical breakthroughs in a number of areas,” and said the bill “does establish ethical criteria for stem cell research, and I think that’s very, very important.”

DeGette told the congressional newspaper that a Republican co-sponsor is important “and it certainly is critical for us now” given that Republicans control the House. The first time the bill received a House vote, 50 House and 18 Senate Republicans voted for it. The second time, just 37 and 16 voted for the measure and those numbers are likely lower today.

Dent joined just a few Republicans in co-sponsoring the bill last time — along with Reps. Fred Upton (Michigan), Mary Bono Mack (California) and Thaddeus McCotter (Michigan) and McCotter eventually withdrew from the bill.

The bill is expected to prompt a battle over the Dickey amendment, which is at issue in the lawsuits scientists and pro-life groups have filed against the Obama administration seeking to reverse his executive order forcing taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research.

When the Clinton administration announced plans to fund destructive experiments on live human embryos, the National Institutes of Health announced its plans for funding such research in December 1994. But pro-life Republican congressmen Jay Dickey and Roger Wicker introduced an amendment to the annual health appropriations bill to prevent this funding – – an amendment approved by Congress in 1995 and every year since. In 1997, the language was strengthened to ensure that federal funds cannot be used to clone human embryos by the method recently used to produce Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal that ultimately had to be euthanized because of problems.

The law is important because while researchers can obtain federal funds under the Obama order, they still can’t use those funds to create their own embryonic stem cells. But DeGette wants to overturn the law and has been talking with White House officials about ditching the amendment.

“Dickey-Wicker is 13 years old now, and I think we need to review these policies,” she told the New York Times last year.

Pro-life advocates told previously that they would fight DeGette’s move to kill more than just so-called leftover human embryos for research.

“I don’t think it will fly because the movement in the country is in favor of life,” Rep, Chris Smith of New Jersey said. ““For Congress to say that the new guinea pig will be human embryos, most Americans will find that highly offensive.”

Douglas Johnson, a spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee, also talked with previously about this bill.

“This sets the stage for an attack on the Dickey-Wicker law,” he says. “Any member of Congress who votes for legislation to repeal this law is voting to allow federal funding of human embryo farms, created through the use of human cloning.”

The Dickey-Wicker law prohibits the creation of embryos for the purpose of research as well as any research that harms an embryo, a unique human being after conception. The provision also prohibits federal funds from being used for the intentional creation of embryos by IVF, cloning, or by any other means, for the purpose of their destruction and use in scientific experimentation.