According to a recent poll, approximately 57 per cent of Republican voters in the US support human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research, while 40 per cent oppose it. The survey, conducted by pollster David Winston, also showed that despite strong approval among republican voters for President Bush (90 per cent), there was far less support for his ES cell research policy.
Republican members of Congress who oppose the President's policy have used the poll to generate support for new legislation on ES cell research. Bush announced on 9 August 2001 that no federal funds would be available for researchers working on ES cells created after that date. Scientists have since complained that this policy restricts their research and leaves only less effective ES cell lines for them to work with, as ES cells created before that date were created using mouse 'feeder' cells.
A bill on ES cell research is currently before Congress. Sponsored by Michael Castle and Dianne DeGette, with more than 200 co-sponsors, it would allow federal funds to be used for research on ES cells derived from embryos created for fertility treatments and donated by patients. It would not allow funds for ES cell research on embryos created expressly for research purposes. The bill also provides that patients cannot be paid for embryo donation and that they must have full knowledge of how the donated embryos would be used. Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, said that a vote is scheduled on the bill before the summer recess in August. However, Dave Weldon, a member of Congress who opposes any relaxation of Bush's policy, says that the only reason that there is rising support in Congress is because members are not 'properly educated' on the issues. He said that if Congress knew more then the bill would be 'soundly defeated', adding that research on ES cells as potential therapies is 'garbage'.
Last month, a cross-party group introduced a similar bill to the US Senate that would formally ban human reproductive cloning while relaxing the restrictions on federal funding of ES cell research. In previous years, similar bills have failed to pass through the Senate and Congress. The bill's sponsors - Dianne Feinstein, Orrin Hatch, Arlen Specter, Edward Kennedy and Tom Harkin - say that they will fight harder to gain support from their colleagues for this bill. Hatch has also lent his support to the bill in Congress, saying that 'if we can pass this in the House, I really believe we can pass it in the Senate'. Last week it was announced that an advertising campaign is to be launched to help promote the bill. It will focus on Nancy Reagan's support for ES cell research and will feature newspaper and television advertisements.