Stem cell research has repeatedly been at the forefront of the political scene since the turn of the century. Sure this was only 6 years ago, but it has been a hot topic for sometime. The topic was a focus of the last presidential election with such champions as Michael J. Fox and Nancy Reagan, the wife and now widow of the late Ronald Reagan. Recently the United States Senate passed an act and sent it on to the President addressing and dealing with this subject.
In 2001, the President set out rules that made federal funding and research on stem cells available only for a small line of then existing stem cells. The rules set out in 2001 essentially made it impossible to harvest additional stem cells for any purpose and in some ways limited research on stem cells where federal funds were involved. However, the United States Senate has passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act which would lift the prior ban limiting research to previously existing stem cells. The act, if it were to become law, would act as a boon for research dollars in this area of science.
However, the President has said that he will veto the Act when it is presented to him. While this raises a number of issues concerning the future of stem cell research, it is interesting to note that this will be Bush’s first veto ever. During the 6 years he has been in office, he has yet to veto a single bill or act. By comparison, President Clinton vetoed a total of 22 bills or acts and President Reagan vetoed a total of 44.
So, what does the veto mean for stem cell research? If the Senate wants the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act to go forward, they must veto the act. By way of a quick civics lesson – if a president vetoes a bill or act, then it is sent back to Congress. Congress has to vote by a set number to override the veto. If enough votes are cast in favor of overriding the veto, then the act can become law despite the veto. If the votes are not to be had, the bill or act is dead and must start over.
For the Senate to overturn a veto, 67 senators will have to vote in favor of overturning the veto. This is not out of the questions, but not a guarantee and probably unlikely in the case of the stem cell act. A total of 63 senators voted in favor of the Act, but four votes in the Senate can be a tall order. However a number of Republicans voted in favor of the act, one Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a physician, feels strongly that the Act is an important piece of legislation. Still most commentators feel that if the Act is vetoed, the act will be dead.
Opponents of the Act and stem cell research object to such on moral grounds. Supporters feel that stem cell research holds great potential for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes research.
In a nutshell, stem cells have the potential to turn into virtually any type of cell in the human body. The theory, and hope, is that scientists will be able to one day engineer cells to help with the treatment of a number of ailments, including the ones mentioned above.
Apparently researchers and scientists have been following the federal legislation with a great deal of interest. Initially it was thought that there were as many as 60 lines of stem cells that were in existence at the time the Presidential ban was put in place. However, it appears that the number is closer to 20. In addition to this, some researchers have apparently noticed that the existing stem cells have been reacting in unusual ways leading some to believe that they may have genetically changed as a result of their origins and now have limited usage. These researchers feel that more stem cells are needed for research.
It should be pointed out that stem cell research in the
, even on new stem cell lines, is not illegal. The Presidential ban does not restrict work on new stem cell lines if the funding is from private or state resources. So, even with the ban, research has been ongoing, just not to the level as it would be were federal funding available.
So, while it appears likely that the President will veto the Act, all that will, on a broad level, really have happened is the door to allow federal funding for stem cell research will remain closed. There have been tens of millions of dollars of private and state money that has been spent on stem cell research and the President’s veto will in no way impact or limit this research. However, most do believe that with federal funding the progress on stem cell research would be greatly increased.