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Bush Vetoes Measure on Stem Cell Research

President Bush on Wednesday issued his second veto of a measure lifting his restrictions on human embryonic stem cell experiments. The move effectively pushed the contentious scientific and ethical debate surrounding the research into the 2008 presidential campaign.

“Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical,” Mr. Bush said in a brief ceremony in the East Room of the White House. He called the United States “a nation founded on the principle that all human life is sacred.”

At the same time, Mr. Bush issued an executive order intended to encourage scientists to pursue other forms of stem cell research that he does not deem unethical. But that research is already going on, and the plan provides no new money.

Advocates for embryonic stem cell research called the new plan a ploy to distract from Mr. Bush’s opposition to the studies.

“I think the president has issued a political fig leaf,” said Sean Tipton, spokesman for the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, an advocacy group. “He knows he’s on the wrong side of the American public.”

The veto, only the third of Mr. Bush’s presidency, puts him at odds not only with the majority of voters, according to polls, but also with many members of his own political party. Republicans sent him a similar measure last year when they controlled Congress. But even with considerable support from the Republican minority this year, Democrats concede they do not have enough votes for a veto override.

That means decisions about federal financing for the experiments are likely to fall into the hands of the next occupant of the White House. Even before Mr. Bush could put his veto pen to the bill, two leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 — Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois — were weighing in.

Mrs. Clinton, speaking at a conference in Washington, vowed to “lift the ban on stem cell research” if elected. Mr. Obama issued a statement saying Americans deserved a president who “will make this promise real for the American people.”

Though Democrats appear united in support of the stem cell studies, the issue divides the Republican contenders. Senator John McCain of Arizona and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, are generally supportive. But Mitt Romney, who supported federal financing for the research while governor of Massachusetts, now opposes it, saying he turned against it when he learned the details. The questions are personal for him because his wife, Ann, has multiple sclerosis, which doctors hope could be treated more effectively with the benefit of the research.

Embryonic stem cells are of great interest to scientists because they have the potential to give rise to any type of cell or tissue in the body, and might therefore be used to treat disease. But religious conservatives and abortion opponents oppose the studies because they destroy human embryos.

The opponents make up an important part of Mr. Bush’s political base, and they praised his veto.

“President Bush was forceful in his defense of the tiniest human beings at the beginning of his administration,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which represents women who oppose abortion. “He is equally forceful now.”

In August 2001, Mr. Bush announced the current rules: tax dollars could be used to study colonies, called lines, of embryonic stem cells, if the embryos themselves had already been destroyed. The bill he vetoed Wednesday would have allowed research on fresh lines drawn from surplus embryos destined to be destroyed by fertility clinics.

Advocates for the research say they have not given up trying to turn the vetoed measure into law. They are now considering trying to attach the bill to legislation Mr. Bush would be reluctant to reject, like an appropriations bill for the National Institutes of Health. And Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Democrats might well hold an override vote, if only to redraw attention to Mr. Bush’s opposition to the studies.

“He’s put America in his own political straitjacket on this research,” Mr. Emanuel said.

But proponents are also clearly looking to 2008. “Beyond trying to do this in a must-pass, must-sign type piece of legislation,” said Representative Michael N. Castle of Delaware, lead Republican sponsor of the bill, “we’re going to have to wait either for a change of mind at the White House, which seems unlikely unless there are some major medical breakthroughs, or the next president.”

Source Date: Jun 21 2007
Source Publication: The New York Times