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Stem-Cell Debate Rages Ahead of Vote


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

While the US Senate braces for a showdown over the filibuster rules, the House of Representatives is wrangling over stem cell research. The House is expected to vote Tuesday on legislation that would loosen restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush says he will veto the bill, but NPR's Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports, the debate goes on and is not limited to Congress.


In 2001, President Bush banned federal funding for research using new embryonic stem cell lines. The House bill would change that, allowing government-funded researchers to work with stem cells drawn from embryos left over from fertility treatments. The bill's supporters say instead of being discarded, the excess embryos could be donated for research. But opponents, who believe life begins at conception, are offended by the idea. The debate spilled into the networks' Sunday talk shows today.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Reporter: Time now for The List. And we continue our earlier discussions of stem cells with two passionate women who have a very personal stake in the debate.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Those `passionate women' appearing on ABC's "This Week" were Christopher Reeve's wife Dana and evangelist Billy Graham's daughter, Ann Graham Lotz. The families of both women have been affected by disability and disease. Graham Lotz spoke first followed by Reeve.

(Soundbite of "This Week")

Ms. ANN GRAHAM LOTZ: I have a father who has Parkinson's disease. I have a son who has cancer. I have a mother who has degenerative arthritis. I have a husband who has diabetes. But I would not want any one of my family members to benefit from the willful destruction of another human life.

Mrs. DANA REEVE: There is not a disorder you can name that wouldn't benefit from stem cell research: eyes, heart, lungs, every part of the body. The stem cell discovery is going to be the most prominent discovery, I think, in our lifetime for sure.

MARSHALL-GENZER: The debate that divides Reeve and Graham Lotz also divides Republicans. Conservative Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah has gone so far as to co-sponsor legislation that would make it easier to obtain new stem cell lines. Some House Republicans have come up with a compromise. They're backing a measure supporting research on stem cells culled from umbilical cord blood. But many scientists say those types of stem cells would be of little value. David Shaywitz, a stem cell researcher at Harvard, says the umbilical cord stem cells don't have the flexibility of embryonic stem cells.

Mr. DAVID SHAYWITZ (Harvard): All stem cells are not created equal. Embryonic stem cells have the ability to specialize into any cell type in the body. Adult blood stem cells and embryonic cord blood stem cells only have the ability to become other blood cells.

MARSHALL-GENZER: As Congress wrestles with the ethics of stem cell research, other nations have generously funded it. Last week South Korean scientists announced they'd come up with an improved method of generating embryonic stem cells. They used human eggs and DNA from people suffering from disease or disability. The scientists hope they can eventually use the stem cells to treat those patients.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer
Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a part time newscaster, reporter, and producer for NPR. She reports on a variety of issues, including education and homeland security.