By: Daniel Trecroci
The landscape of embryonic stem-cell research could very well change when Texas Governor George W. Bush takes office later this month. The President can issue an executive order banning monies earmarked for specific research causes at NIH. He has the power to determine whether NIH can or cannot use funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
Outgoing Vice President Al Gore is on record as saying he supports federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Texas Governor George Bush, however, has said he opposes such funding.
“What we don’t know with Bush is whether he would issue an executive order banning stem cell research, or if he would oppose it but allow the current plan to continue [like he says he will do for the abortion pill RU486],” says Larry Soler, director of government relations for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
A Hypothetical Seesaw Battle Over Using Federal Funds
If Bush does issue an executive order banning NIH funding for embryonic stem-cell research, Soler says the 107th Congress could override Bush’s executive order with a simple majority vote. Bush could then veto the congressional vote, meaning the Congress would then require a 2/3-majority vote to override his veto.
Since there have been no formal votes in Congress on the matter of embryonic stem-cell research, Soler says we do not have a good sense on what positions are held by individual legislators if that issue should arise.
Use of Embryonic Stem Cells Called ‘Illegal, Immoral and Unnecessary’
Several anti-abortion activists have gone on record as opposing any use of fetal cells for stem-cell research. Even the United Methodist Church, which supports abortion rights, opposes the use of human embryonic stem-cell research, calling the NIH guidelines, “a big step toward making human life a commodity.”
Senator Sam Browback (R-KS) is one person in Washington, D.C. who thinks stem-cell research is wrong, calling it “illegal, immoral and unnecessary.”
Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AK) for the past four years has co-sponsored an amendment to the NIH appropriation bills that precludes federal funding of any research. In addition, Tom Coburn (R-OK), a family doctor, says, “Where are you ethically when you have an emotional hurt (because of a disease) and you abandon your ethics?”
Pro-Life Means ‘Make Life Better for the Living’
According to the August 6, 2000 issue of The Wall Street Journal, Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), an anti-abortion activist, was asked by another anti-abortion activist to defend a prohibition on extracting stem cell from human embryos. Smith declined to defend such a prohibition, saying, “Part of my pro-life ethic is to make life better for the living.”
Smith’s family has been ravaged by Parkinson’s disease. He says such stem cells derived from human embryos might be able to turn into neurons and pave the way for better Parkinson’s treatment and, perhaps, a cure.
Other pro-life legislators who are in favor of stem-cell research include Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC), whose daughter had diabetes; former Senator Connie Mack (R-FL), who has a long family history of cancer and Representative Duke Cunninghamn (R-CA), who is a prostate cancer survivor.
Joining Political Forces to Advance Disease Treatment
In an act of political bipartisanship, Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and ranking member Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), were instrumental in introducing the Stem Cell Research Act of 2000 (S. 2015). Specter and Harkin, who also chaired the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, pushed a bill to lift the ban on federal funding of embryo research.