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US pro-stem cell mission ready for fight

Bush set to veto crunch Senate vote

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A cross-party American delegation has cautioned the US is lagging on embryonic stem cell research, and medical progress is suffering worldwide as a result. The group, currently visiting the UK, appealed for President Bush to withdraw a threat to veto a Bill set to be revive the impoverished American stem cell research community.

Bill HR 810 was introduced last year by House members Diana DeGette (Democrat, Colorado) and Michael Castle (Republican, Delaware). It proposes lifting Bush's moratorium on developing new useful stem cell lines, and lays down a framework for ethical regulation for use of surplus IVF embryos with informed donor consent. Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist has promised a vote on HR 810 in the next few weeks, and its backers are confident of success.

Congresswoman DeGette said: “I hope...the President will not issue his first veto on a Bill that could help millions of Americans.”

The bipartisan group made their comments at the Royal Society in London, at the end of a fact-finding mission this week which saw them consult with UK politicians, regulators and scientists on the issues surrounding the contentious field. Embryonic stem cells have the power to develop into any cell in the body, and advocates say they have the potential to revolutionise treatment of a whole rannge of conditions; from diabetes to spinal cord injury, Parkinson's disease and more.

A recent poll conducted by pro-stem cell group the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research found 72 per cent of Americans in favour of advancing stem cell research. Congressman Jim Langevin (Democrat, Rhode Island) said: “I'm willing to bet those in the remaining percentage haven't been educated on the issues.”

The issue has climbed back up the political agenda Stateside of late. Since HR 810 was passed in the House ten months ago, religious right-wingers have been accused of stalling its progress. DeGette said the sway of public opinion in favour of the scientists and the should serve as a marker of the potential political cost of Bush vetoing the Bill. She cautioned: “I think there will be political consequences.” Midterm congressional elections are set for November 7 this year.

Bush announced in August 2001 he would effectively block state funding of new research areas in a TV address. He said: “As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist. I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines, where the life and death decision has already been made.”

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