The U.S. Senate is debating two bills dealing with stem cell research and Iowa’s two senators are on opposing sides. Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, has been a leading advocate for federal funding of stem cell research using human embryos. Harkin’s backing a bill that would lift the ban on federal funding of that kind of research — a restriction President Bush enacted in 2001.
"Most Americans probably find it hard to believe that we’re still arguing about this issue," Harkin said to open the Senate’s debate on Tuesday. "They want more stem cell research. They’ve listened to the scientists."
Harkin told senators the bill will "take the handcuffs" off scientists who want to conduct stem cell research with human embryos that, in Harkin’s words, "will lead to miraculous cures." According to Harkin, the bill he’s backing would provide strict ethical guidelines for such research.
"The only embryos that could be used would be those that are slated to be discarded anyway from our IVF clinics," Harkin said. "Secondly, there has to be written, informed consent by the donors and thirdly, there cannot be any momentary or other kinds of inducements at all to the donors of these embryos." According to Harkin, thousands of embryos from fertility clinics are discarded today because current law forbids their use in federally-funded medical research. "Let’s use those…to save lives, to make live better, to ease suffering and pain," Harkin said. "That, to me, is the ethical way to do things."
Iowa’s other U.S. Senator, Charles Grassley — a Republican, is an opponent of research using human embryos and he talked about the topic during a telephone conference call with Iowa radio reporters. "I believe we ought to enhance adult stem cell research. I believe that it has great potential and I believe that money spent on other stem cells would not necessarily be a waste but no proven benefit, as come from adult stem cells," Grassley said.
A bill allowing research using human embryos passed Congress last year but was vetoed by President Bush. Grassley predicts a repeat performance when it comes to the bill Harkin’s backing. "It will meet the same fate as the previous one. It is pretty much the same as the last one, at least the same goals are in mind," Grassley said. "I voted against (the bill) the last time because I think that with limited money for federal research, we ought to be spending research (dollars) on stem cells that we know will be productive in the research."
President Bush has said he would sign a bill that would allow studies on embryos which are incapable of developing into fetuses, but Bush has pledged to veto the bill Harkin backs. The Senate is expected to vote on both stem-cell-related bills late Wednesday.