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Stem cell stalemate.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Places, everyone. It's time for another episode of the hottest new reality show in the nation's capital - "America's Most Righteous." This week's topic is embryonic stem cell research, and it features a showdown between familiar foes - Congress and the White House.

Contestants will duke it out to earn points with the public and win the right to claim the coveted title of "America's Most Righteous." This could be a classic matchup.

One side features religious conservatives who believe that human life begins at conception. They argue that destroying fertilized human embryos to extract stem cells is murder and violates the basic human rights of the unborn.

The other side argues that a microscopic dot of cells smaller than a period on this page and more primitive than an earthworm is not the moral equivalent of a human being with cancer who might potentially be cured through embryonic stem cell research. This team includes many staunch anti-abortion Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Let's meet the players.

President George Bush: The president got the game started five years ago when he put strict limits on the kind of embryonic stem cell research that would be eligible for federal funding.

Unfortunately, the very limited number of stem cell lines Bush approved for federal funding quickly proved inadequate for ongoing research because of a lack of genetic variety or potential contamination. That hasn't affected Bush's religious objections to research that involves the destruction of human embryos. He has promised to issue the first veto of his two-term presidency when legislation to relax his restrictions reaches his desk.

The House of Representatives: Reflecting a dramatic break with the White House, the Republican-controlled House voted 238-194 last year in favor of lifting Bush's 2001 restrictions.

Although the vote was well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, it included the support of many Republican opponents of abortion.

The Senate: Led by anti-abortion Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Senate voted 63-37 on Tuesday to lift Bush's funding restrictions. The measure had broad bipartisan support, but it needed four more votes to override Bush's threatened veto.

Bush and the religious conservatives in Congress who support him hope their uncompromising belief that human life begins at conception will persuade the public that they deserve the "America's Most Righteous" crown. Supporters of embryonic stem cell research are betting that limiting research to donated embryos slated for destruction by fertility clinics will be seen as the most righteous position.

Opinion polls suggest it will be a tough sell for the Bush team, and there is a glaring logical inconsistency in their position. When asked clear and specific questions about the use of excess embryos from fertility clinics for stem cell research, 70 percent of the American public supports such research.

More problematic for those who insist that it's immoral to destroy embryos in pursuit of lifesaving medical cures is the general acceptance of the countless embryos that must be destroyed in pursuit of a successful pregnancy at a fertility clinic. President Bush praised the work of fertility clinics in his 2001 speech announcing federal funding restrictions on stem cell research.

Right now there are more than 400,000 discarded embryos awaiting destruction at fertility clinics in the United States. Strong majorities in Congress and the American public believe it's appropriate, with the permission of the donors, to extract stem cells from those embryos in an effort to find cures for Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's, cancer and spinal cord injuries.

The president's team will probably win this round because it doesn't look like there are enough votes to override a veto. But the battle isn't over. Stay tuned for the most important public vote in this contest: November's midterm elections.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Congress lacks votes to override a Bush veto
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 19, 2006
Words:627
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