Senators in the US will start to debate a bill on the issue of human eembryonic stem cell (ES cell) research next month. A bipartisan group of senators is campaigning to persuade President Bush to relax his policy on the research. Bush, who opposes any research that would involve the destruction of human embryos, announced on 9 August 2001 that no federal funds would be available for researchers working on human ES cells created after that date. US 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.
Earlier this month, President Bush reiterated his pledge to veto any federal legislation that would relax the policy on ES cell research conducted by federally funded researchers. A bill loosening the restrictions was passed by the House of Representatives last month - if passed through the Senate, it would allow federal funds to be used for research on ES cells derived from embryos left over from fertility treatments and voluntarily donated by patients. The House passed the bill by 238 votes to 194, which is not enough, however, to allow the President's veto to be overridden. But Senator Arlen Specter has said he is confident that the two thirds majority can be achieved in the Senate.
Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, confirmed that the Senate will debate the issue sometime in July, although he did not specify which bill or bills will be the subject of debate. But Senator Orrin Hatch, who supports the legislation, said he believes that the bill passed through the House of Representatives will be the most likely: 'He knows he has to bring it up, and I believe he will', he said. But Senator Sam Brownback, who opposes ES cell research, said that he has not ruled out a 'filibuster' of the bill, adding that there will be a 'very robust debate' and that this 'is the central moral issue of our day'.
Meanwhile, former US first lady Nancy Reagan is to renew her efforts campaigning for ES cell research, a little after the anniversary of the death of her husband, former President Ronald Reagan. She wants federal funding to be increased to enable research into diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, which her husband died from. Her spokeswoman, Joanne Drake, said 'this is a very important issue to her and I know she remains committed to the cause and will do what she can at the right time'. Mrs Reagan campaigned 'behind the scenes' before the vote on the bill relaxing the policy in the House of Representatives, and is likely to do the same before the Senate debates, according to reports.