A US senator introduced a bill on Monday to protect government funding for human embryonic stem cell research, amid a battle in the court where a judge ordered that federal money for such endeavours be stopped.
Democratic Senator Arlen Specter said his proposal would codify in law President Barack Obama's March 2009 executive order lifting restrictions predecessor George W. Bush had imposed on such research.
Specter pointed to a federal judge's temporary injunction in August freezing federal funds for human embryonic stem cell research, later lifted by a US appeals court in a victory for backers of that pioneering scientific work.
"Even a temporary suspension of funding will disrupt the work on these important research projects in the areas of heart disease, sickle cell anemia, liver failure, muscular dystrophy and other maladies," said the senator, himself a cancer survivor.
In his August ruling, US district court judge Royce Lamberth found that the research violated a 1996 law -- the Dickey-Wicker amendment -- that forbids using government money to produce stem cells from human embryos.
That decision was a victory for a coalition that included several Christian organizations that view fertilized human eggs as persons entitled to the right to life.
While embryonic stem cell research is vastly popular with the US public, it remained unclear whether the US Congress would approve legislation like Specter's before November legislative elections.
Researchers believe that stem cells, so called because they are the foundation for all human cells, provide two promising avenues for scientists.
First, they can be used for research that cannot be performed inside the body. But scientists believe they can also coax the foundational cells into cardiac, pancreatic or brain cells to replace damaged or infected cells and allow tissue or organs to reconstitute themselves.
Specter said the US National Institutes of Health reported 546 million dollars have been spent on human embryonic stem cell research "and phenomenal progress has already been made in realizing the possible benefits."
His bill would require that stem cells be derived from human embryos created for reproductive purposes and donated from in vitro fertilization clinics because they would never be implanted and would therefore be otherwise discarded.
The bill would also require written consent from individuals who donated the embryos, and would forbid the use of federal funds to derive stem cell lines -- the process in which the embryo is destroyed.