The U.S. Senate will consider three bills next week dealing with stem cell research and Senator Tom Harkin says he’ll vote for all three. But Harkin, a long-time backer of expanded use of stem cells in medical research, says only one of the bills stakes out new ground — and it’s the bill President Bush vows to veto.
“The bill would expand the number of stem cell lines that federally-funded scientists can study by lifting the president’s arbitrary eligibility date of August 1, 2001. All stem cell lines would be eligible for federal research as long as they meet strict ethical requirements,” Harkin says.
“Currently, under the president’s restrictions only 21 stem cell lines are available for research and, as we know now, all 21 stem cell lines are contaminated because they were used with mouse cells, so they will not be used for human therapies.” Harkin says the bill’s written so stem cells could only be “harvested” from embryos left over after fertility treatments.
“The bill deals exclusively with embryos that are otherwise going to be thrown away in these IVF fertility clinics,” Harkin says. “The choice before us is to discard them as so much medical waste or to use them in research to cure disease and save lives and it is the second choice which I believe is the truly moral (choice) and respectful of human life.”
Harkin says his nephew, Kelly, could benefit from stem cell research. Harkin’s nephew, who was in the Navy, suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident on an aircraft carrier. “Kelly’s been a quadriplegic for 27 years,” Harkin says. “His great hope is that embryonic stem cell research will lead to a break-through that might allow him to walk again.”
The Senate vote on the bill is scheduled for next Tuesday. The measure has already passed the House, but President Bush vows a veto. “I hope the president will reconsider his earlier statements and sign it into law so that we can get on with this necessary embryonic stem cell research,” Harkin says. That’s unlikely, however, so the Senate’s Republican leader is promising to hold votes on two other stem cell-related bills that Bush will sign.
Harkin says he’ll vote for both of those alternatives, but neither breaks new ground. One would allow federal funding for research that uses stem cells that come from adults. “We had hearings on it just a couple of weeks ago and I asked all the scientists from (the National Institutes for Health) and outside and they all said they can already do what the bill says to do,” Harkin says. “So, I’ll vote for it because it doesn’t do anything that we can’t already do.”
The other measure would ban so-called “fetal farming” which critics describe as growing fetuses for the sole purpose of harvesting stem cells. “It bans an activity that no one’s doing anyway because (it’s) unethical,” Harkin says.