President George W. Bush on Wednesday vetoed for a second time a bill seeking to encourage potentially groundbreaking embryonic stem cell research, saying it violates the sanctity of human life. Risking new criticism from the scientific community, Bush rejected moves by US lawmakers to overturn his earlier prohibition against using federal funds for any research involving human embryo destruction.
It is only the third time in six years as president that he has wielded his veto; the first time was last year when he blocked a similar bill on federal support for embryonic stem cell research. The president, a devout Christian, said that using human embryos for scientific research -- which often involves their destruction -- conflicts with his religious beliefs and he urged scientists to consider other alternatives. "If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos," Bush said.
"I made it clear to Congress and to the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line." Embryonic stem cells are primitive cells from early stage embryos capable of developing into almost every tissue of the body. Scientists believe they could be crucial to finding a cure for a number of serious diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, diabetes and cancer. But Bush, criticized for holding back promising research after the 2006 veto, offered new support to encouraging alternative stem cell research.
"We're already seeing remarkable advances in science and therapeutic uses of stem cells drawn from adults and children and the blood from umbilical cords with no harm to the donor," he said. "For example, several new studies released earlier this month showed the potential of reprogramming adult cells, such as skin cells, to make them function like embryonic stem cells.
"A few months earlier, scientists discovered that cells extracted from amniotic fluid and placentas could also provide stem cells that seem to do what embryonic cells can." Bush added: "Our conscious calls us to pursue the possibilities of science in a manner that respects human dignity and upholds our moral values." Immediately after the veto, Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton hit out at Bush for holding back scientific research.
"This is just one example of how the president puts ideology before science, politics before the needs of our families," said Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidential election next year. Bush also announced directives toward encouraging alternatives to stem cell research reliant on human embryos, directing the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health to ensure than human stem cell lines are "prodcued in ways that do not create, destroy or harm human embryos." Those that follow such orders "will be eligible for federal funding," Bush said.
Researchers have announced their recent success in reprogramming mouse skin cells to mimic the properties of embryonic stem cells, in an advance they hope can be replicated in humans. "By expanding support for nondestructive research methods, this executive order will make it more likely that these exciting advances continue to unfold," the White House said after Bush signed the executive order.
As before, Bush's rejection of the legislation does not prevent private money to be used for embryonic stem cell work. Private foundations and some states have offered funds for research with embryonic stem cells in the wake of Bush's previous veto.