Shunning the science-based community

Contrary to popular wisdom, the Bush White House continues to dispute the promise of embryonic stem-cell research.

Published May 24, 2005 9:55PM (EDT)

The House is likely to defy President Bush's wishes and pass a hotly debated bill that would reverse the president's ban on embryonic stem cells harvested after 2001. If the legislation also passes in the Senate in the coming weeks, Bush has threatened to veto it, which would be the first veto of his tenure.

The bill has set off another round of inflammatory rhetoric from the far right. Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas said a vote for the bill would be a "vote to fund with taxpayer dollars the dismemberment of living, distinct human beings for the purposes of medical experimentation."

There's the far-right religious view, and there's the more mainstream scientific one. After last week's announcement that South Korean researchers had succeeded in cloning human embryos to create patient-specific lines of stem cells, many lawmakers believe that the U.S. is failing to pursue crucial new technology in the race to cure devastating diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. "How many more lives must be ended or ravaged?" asked Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, according to the New York Times. "How much more unimaginable suffering must be endured until government gives researchers the wherewithal to simply do their jobs?"

The Bush White House continues to dispute the promise of current embryonic stem-cell research; a statement from the administration issued ahead of the House vote said the research "relies on unsupported scientific assertions." Few people outside the anti-abortion right would agree, and Bush's threat of a veto appears aimed at placating his far-right base. The president supports an alternative bill that the House will also vote on shortly, which would allocate $79 million in federal funds to back the use of non-embryonic stem cells from umbilical cord blood remaining in the placenta after separation from a newborn baby -- a practice with which the "right to life" presumably isn't an issue.

By Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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