The US House of Representatives has voted in favour of legislation to expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act 2007 was passed by 253 votes to 174, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a Presidential veto. The bill would allow federal funding for stem cell research on so-called surplus embryos from fertility treatments, which are otherwise destroyed immediately afterwards. Currently only privately-funded ES cell research is permitted in the US.
'Today, by passing legislation to expand stem cell research, the House gave voice to the hopes of more than 100 million Americans and their families', said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 'With today's strong bipartisan vote, we now challenge President Bush to join members from both sides of the aisle in supporting the hope of stem cell research', she added. Despite polls showing most Americans support ES cell research, these hopes are unlikely to be fulfilled, however, as President Bush is expected to resist any challenges to his current position on ES cell research. The White House has indicated that President Bush's stance on the issue has not changed since he vetoed the Stem Cell Enhancement Act 2005 last July, and the President is expected to veto the current proposals. White House spokesman Tony Fratto issued a statement saying, 'The president will certainly veto the legislation if it comes to his desk because it would compel all American taxpayers to pay for research that relies on the intentional destruction of human embryos for the derivation of stem cells'.
Although the Democrats gained 30 seats in the House after last November's mid-term elections, supporters of embryonic stem cell research only rose by 15 votes. 290 votes are required to override a Presidential veto, and for the bill to become law both the House and the Senate must override the veto by a two-thirds majority.
Republicans in the House have indicated they may offer an alternative proposal exploring research using newly-discovered 'amniotic stem cells'. A recent US study has shown that stem cells derived from amniotic fluid may harbour the same potential benefits as those taken from embryos. 'The stem cell debate is only the first in what will be an onrushing train of biotechnology challenges in our future...We must establish a constructive precedent here for taking the moral dimensions of these issues seriously', said the report, published in the January edition of Nature Biotechnology. The senior author of the report, Anthony Atala, later commented, 'Some may be interpreting my research as a substitute for the need to pursue other forms of regenerative medicine therapies, such as those involving embryonic stem cells...I disagree with that assertion'.
The Senate will now vote on the legislation.