WASHINGTON The House of Representatives failed July 19 to overturn President Bush's veto earlier in the day of legislation that would have funded stem cell research that destroys human embryos.
The House voted 235-193 for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, leaving it 51 votes short of the two-thirds majority required to override a presidential veto. The vote total was nearly the same as that recorded when the House voted 238-194 for passage of the bill, H.R. 810, in May 2005.
The override effort came less than five hours after Bush announced in a White House ceremony he had vetoed the bill because it required the destruction of embryos.
The veto, the first of Bush's presidency, was not a surprise. He had threatened since before last year's House vote to reject a measure that would have weakened his policy barring federal grants for experiments that result in the destruction of human embryos. Bush's rule allows funds for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence when his policy was announced in August 2001.
"If this bill would have become law, American taxpayers would, for the first time in our history, be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos. And I'm not going to allow it," Bush said in the July 19 ceremony. "Crossing the line would needlessly encourage a conflict between science and ethics that can only do damage to both and to our nation as a whole. If we're to find the right ways to advance ethical medical research, we must also be willing, when necessary, to reject the wrong ways."
The president's veto followed by a day the Senate's passage of H.R. 810 in a 63-37 vote. That total fell four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override.
The House attempt at an override broke down this way by party lines: 51 Republicans, 183 Democrats and an independent voted for the override; 179 Republicans and 14 Democrats voted against it.
H.R. 810 would have underwritten research that uses embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics.
Stem cells are the body's master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions.
Unlike research using embryos, extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow does not harm the donor and has produced treatments for at least 72 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.
Many scientists contend embryonic stem cells have more therapeutic potential than their non-embryonic counterparts, but embryonic research has yet to treat any diseases in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.
In addition, the strength of the pro-embryonic lobby's claims is not evident in the priorities of the multi-billion-dollar biotechnology industry, which has invested many times more in non-embryonic stem cell research.
Privately funded research on embryonic stem cells is legal and ongoing in the United States.
In addition to vetoing H.R. 810, Bush signed into law the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act, S. 3504, which bars the acceptance of tissue from an embryo implanted or developed in a woman or animal for research purposes. Though no such experiments have been performed with human beings, some researchers have aborted animal fetuses and harvested their body parts as a possible precursor, supporters of the new ban said. The "fetus farming" ban passed both houses of Congress unanimously.