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Enhancing Stem Cell Research

As the Senate considers the stem cell bill package thisweek, they must understand that supporting stem cell research means supporting the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has announced that the Senate will vote on a package of three stem cell bills today. Karl Rove has already said that President Bush will use the first veto of his presidency on HR 810 / S 471, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which is the only bill that will have an actual effect on stem cell research. This bill, which passed the House with a large, bipartisan majority, would expand the number of stem cell lines that are eligible for federal funding to include those derived from donated excess embryos in fertilization clinics. To develop innovative, potentially life-saving research, American scientists must be allowed to use new, uncontaminated stem cell lines.

More than 70 percent of Americans support embryonic stem cell research, which could lead to cures for illnesses and ailments that affect more than 100 million Americans. In the past month, scientists at Johns Hopkins University have used embryonic stem cells to help paralyzed mice walk again, further proving the promise of this research.

The federal government currently funds research using only 21 stem cell lines, all of which are contaminated with animal products and unable to be used in humans. Meanwhile, there are more than 400,000 excess embryos in fertility clinics that, instead of being destroyed, could be used to assist life-saving research. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act allows scientists in America to use the same resources that are available to scientists working in foreign countries or for private companies.

The other two bills up for a vote have no bearing on stem cell research; they simply restate existing standards and practices. Sam Brownback’s Fetus Farming Prohibition Act reasserts the scientific community’s condemnation of that practice. The Specter-Santorum bill, which encourages the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund alternative means of obtaining embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos, is superfluous. James Battey, head of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force, told the Senate that the NIH can already fund this research.

Supporting stem cell research means supporting the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. We urge the Senate to act on the legislation that matters, and hope that the President does not use his first veto to thwart the wills and desires of almost three-fourths of the American people, further delaying the race toward life-saving cures.

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