By Maggie Fox, Health and Science CorrespondentMon May 23, 6:58 PM ET
Supporters and opponents of embryonic stem cell research ratcheted up arguments ahead of votes on rival bills in the U.S.
House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Each side produced patients, polls and scientific studies to support their positions on Monday.
One bill, offered by Republican Mike Castle of Delaware and Democrat Diana DeGette of Colorado, would promote the use of
embryos left over from fertility treatments in embryonic stem cell research.
Current law forbids the use of federal funding to destroy human embryos, but in 2001 President Bush made an exception for
embryonic stem cell lines that existed at the time of his announcement.
An alternative offered by New Jersey Republican Chris Smith and Alabama Democrat Artur Davis would instead boost research
using blood from umbilical cords as a source of stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells are the master cells of the body, produced during the very first days after conception.
Scientists hope one day they could provide tailored therapy for a range of diseases and conditions, including juvenile
diabetes or spinal cord injuries. So-called adult stem cells also hold this promise but many experts maintain research on
all sources needs to go ahead.
Last week South Korean scientists said they had taken a first step toward this promise, using cloning technology to take
a plug of skin from nine different patients, male and female, adults and children, to produce batches of stem cells genetically
identical to the patients.
The National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group that also opposes embryo research, said the research made
a ban on so-called therapeutic cloning all the more urgent.
"H.R. 810 (the Castle-DeGette bill) is certainly a stepping stone toward human cloning," the group said in a statement.
It cited a poll that found nearly 52 percent of U.S. adults opposed federal funding for experiments using stem cells from
But polls have also shown that, depending on the wording of the question, up to 70 percent of U.S. adults surveyed support
embryonic stem cell research.
"Stem cell research holds much promise in the search for better treatment and for a cure for the more than 18 million Americans
with diabetes," said Lynn Nicholas, Chief Executive Officer of the American Diabetes Association.
Castle and DeGette have won converts in the House with their arguments that embryos left over from in vitro fertilization
or IVF attempts could provide a useful source of stem cells for research.
"There's about 400,000 embryos there. About 2 percent a year are disposed of," Castle told a news conference.
Opponents argue that those embryos could be adopted. But Pamela Madsen, Executive Director of the American Fertility Association,
said not all parents want to do that.
"Just as not every couple can give a child up for adoption, not every couple is comfortable with donating an embryo for
another couple's family building," said Madsen, mother of an IVF child.
"If I were a mother of a child who suffered from diabetes or a spinal cord injury, I would hope some other mother would
be willing to donate an excess embryo to help my child."
The argument does not fall along partisan lines, nor is it clearly an abortion issue. Some anti-abortion conservatives
such as California Republican Randy Cunningham also support the Castle-DeGette bill.
Smith's bill would encourage research using umbilical cord blood as a source of stem cells, and his supporters cite studies
showing that these cells can also be transformed into tissue for transplants.
Experts say these cells should also be used in research -- but not to the exclusion of embryonic stem cells.
Bush has said he would veto the Castle-DeGette bill if passed.